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  Animal Kingdom Crime Family
Year: 2010
Director: David Michôd
Stars: James Frecheville, Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, Laura Wheelwright, Mirrah Foulkes, Susan Prior, Clayton Jacobson, Anthony Hayes, Dan Wyllie, Andy McPhee, Anna Lise Phillips
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Teenage Joshua Cody (James Frecheville) found his mother slumped on the sofa in front of the television, and realised that she had taken an accidental overdose of heroin. He called the paramedics, but they could not do much but take the body away, and since he had reassured them he was eighteen when he wasn't, this left Joshua in a quandary which he could see only one way out of: call his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver). Trouble was, she had been estranged from her daughter for years, as Josh's mother wanted to keep him away from that side of the family - with good reason.

A big hit in its native Australia, Animal Kingdom was one of the crime dramas to emerge from that nation's film industry, and it won plaudits abroad as well. Oddly it was in no way graphic or melodramatic in spite of having been based on a real bunch of criminals who became notorious in that country during the eighties, as if anything writer and director David Michôd was at pains to keep his tone restrained, only occasionally erupting into brief violence. With the bovine presence of Frecheville at its heart, this could easily have been accused of sleepwalking through a tale that needed a shot in the arm.

Well, somebody gets a shot in the arm, and that's an important plot point, but it certainly doesn't liven them up. The method here was to stoke up the fires of dread in the audience, as although we don't see much lawbreaking, the sense of a fuse being lit and slow burning throughout the running time made the tension palpable, especially as Josh is your typical innocent on the verge of corruption through no fault of his own: these criminals are his sole relations. Meaning the boy had little choice but to join them, but he is always holding back, as if determined not to allow this atmosphere to bring him down.

Naturally, all this is in vain, but his three uncles and their accomplice and friend Baz (Joel Edgerton) are welcoming enough at first, and do not press Josh into any misdeeds, as they are too busy concentrating on evading the armed robbery squad who put a watch on the house and take disturbing measures to beating this gang who have caused them - and the public - so much trouble. So if the cops are willing to break the law to get their men, who can Josh trust? This question grows ever more important as the investigating sergeant Leckie (Guy Pearce) puts the pressure on the boy as he identifies him as the weak link that could result in a conviction.

Then the Cody family make the mistake of carrying out a revenge attack on the police, and suddenly the screws are tightening on everyone, which leads one of the uncles, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), to suffer more than others thanks to his fragile mental health. He takes it out on those around him, and we begin to worry for both Josh and his girlfriend Nicky (Laura Wheelwright) who has taken to hanging about the Cody home. But really, they're all dangerous in their way, and the apparently benign grandmother is possibly of the worst of the lot as we discover when push comes to shove - Weaver deservedly received the most praise out of all the performers with her twinkly-eyed menace. Yet this was all so low key that Michôd offered you far too much time to mull over what you were watching, and thereby notice that the point to all this was ill-defined other than to drop in on a nasty bunch and be glad you didn't know them. Music by Antony Partos.

[Optimum's Region 2 DVD has a making of featurette, a trailer and about a million interviews as special features.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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