(2010) director David Michôd
This Aussie crime flick lives up to its earthy, gritty rep, especially Jacki Weaver, who plays the middle-aged matron behind this familial crew of criminals. Partially based on real events and real criminals, Animal Kingdom is fairly conventional in its telling, but strikes a chord with unique, riveting characters, creating something fresh and compelling.
The film opens with a teenage boy, sitting watching a crummy game show, next to his mother who seems to be sleeping. But suddenly, paramedics arrive and it turns out that his mother has overdosed on heroin, and he’s waiting for help to arrive, still immensely blase and perhaps more interested in the inane game show than his mother’s life hanging by a thread. It’s a strange, jarring scene, that sets the landscape for him throughout the film.
He turns to his grandmother, Grandma Smurf (Weaver), who takes him in, his closest family left when his mother doesn’t recover from her OD. Grandma has borne a whole clan of thugs, each a little less villainous than the one before him, with the eldest of the group, the hardened, heartless killer. The younger ones are still going through varying degrees of initiation into this crime family, including the nephew.
Guy Pearce, who seems to only show up in good films, plays the good cop, the detective who tries to reach out to him to rat out his family and turn to the good side. Things, as they typically do, escalate from bad to worse to worse, but the story is tied to this naive, young man, the innocent, coming of age to the brutality of the venal tribe. And the question follows, where will he wind up. Will he be transformed into a killer or side with humanity? And in this sense, it’s fairly conventional.
But Weaver’s Grandma Smurf, with her cloying sweet, yet annoying voice, her kisses that linger a definite moment or two too long on her children’s lips, whose banal facade of common middle age belies a ruthlessness as deep as the ocean, she is the masterpiece of the film, and if anything, she pushes a solid drama into the realms of truly worth seeing.
The whole “animal kingdom” motif, however, seems a little trite. The beastliness, the wild, untamed nature of these human animals, compared to lions and other predatory creatures…it’s perhaps a weak point in the film, which may perhaps prove out a less mature script and concept. I won’t nitpick, though. It’s a good flick.