Animal Kingdom begins with a death, and it ends with one too. Even though the two are only thinly related it’s not a far stretch to deduce that J, our protagonist, is living a life shrouded in destruction. When his caregiver dies he must move in with his aunt and cousins, and from then on his life turns into something of a degenerate. I tweeted earlier this week that it’s a pity that smaller foreign flicks like Animal Kingdom never manage to be recognised as well as their American counterparts. It took me back to Three Blind Mice - a film that made my top ten of 2009. Minimalistic would be the wrong adjective to describe Animal Kingdom but it is low key. It’s given the sub caption of “A Crime Story” which is simultaneously accurate and misleading because it is a story about crime but underneath there’s a bevy of familial drama at the centre of it.
If there’s one word that comes to mind when I think of the film it’s seamless. David Michôdthe writer/director crafts his film in such a way that the acts flow together so well that it’s difficult to pinpoint that “aha” moment when things work up to its inevitable climax. He does a sort of a slow burn, which is something that’s more difficult to accomplish than some realise. J has been deliberately shielded from the world of his mother’s family and he slowly drifts into their ways without ever actually “being” a part of it. This drifting is something difficult to show and it manages to come off because James Frecheville manages to exude that sort of listlessness that’s not so much unawareness as it is indifference – at least seemingly. Animal Kingdom functions best when it focuses on the ensemble, but as the lead Frecheville is given a significant portion of the burden and he does it well.
It helps that he’s surrounded by a brilliant cast. You can’t avoid the brilliance that is Jacki Weaver who carves such a wellrounded character that when that seemingly sudden shift in her ideology occurs we’re not only surprise we’re still unwilling to distrust her. She’s the mastermind of the film, but I’m reticent about calling her the villain and perhaps I’m all for subtext but it’s interesting how she enters the narrative to give a hug to J and has her final shot in the film on the receiving end of one. It’s that sort of sequential narrative development that I applaud in Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom feels like a good movie, but it also feels like real life. It’s a thin line to tread and it’s done with distinctioin because more than Michôdthe doing well the acting is on point. Ben Mendelsohn is terrifying to watch, but it’s difficult to look away when he’s playing so well. I’m not wholly impressed with Pearce as an actor here – but he satisfies his role credibly. Joel Edgerton and Sullivan Stapelton are two actors who’d probably get forgotten but the two do fine work, especially Edgerton who leaves the film relatively early but completely sells his character.
Last year it was Three Blind Mice starring, written and directed by Michael Newton. It was a fairly small Australian film that didn’t takeoff anywhere else but it was excellent (it made my top ten of the year). This year’s it’s Animal Kingdom – another small Australian film, though this one is lucky enough to have Guy Pearce who, though not a legitimate star, is close enough for the film to get some semblance of popularity. Jacki Weaver is getting Oscar buzz, and I’m glad for that...something as good as Animal Kingdom deserves all the attention it gets.