David Michod's ball-breaking thriller journeys into dark territory through the eyes of 17 year old Josh (newcomer James Frecheville). “They were all scared,” he says about his crime hardened family, “I just didn't realise it”. Opening with the calmest depiction of an overdose yet filmed, Gran (the sublime Jackie Weaver) takes the newly orphaned lad in, glad to have another one of 'her boys' around home. Indifferent to the point of callousness regarding her daughter's death, we suspect Janine loves her sons a little too much.

Thus Michod reveals layer after layer about this menacing criminal family wedged atop a powder keg of raw emotion. The fuse is lit in retribution when one son is murdered and his sociopathic brother (the barely checked menace of Ben Mendlesohn further proof of his exceptional acting chops) shoots police in revenge. This is Melbourne, things like that happen there... Adding to the mix is kindly police officer Leckie (Guy Pearce) who thinks he can save Josh from the animals in his family.

This is powerful stuff made sensational by a top shelf cast and Michod's superior screenplay. There's not a moment wasted, not a frame out of place. Filmed with chilling austerity by Adam Arkapaw (Blind Company), it is given bone chilling impact thanks to Anthony Partos' (Disgrace) brooding score. Animal Kingdom proves to be one of the best Australian films about warring family since The Boys. Hell, it's one of the best Australian films ever made. Unmissable!



Violence makes good viewing and there are directors like Guy Richie and Quentin Tarantino who epitomize the ‘cool’ factor leaving their audiences in no doubt that they have viewed a criminal world that has a certain charm. A little bit rock n’ roll, perhaps. David Michod’s Animal Kingdom is the opposite. He leaves you in no doubt that the criminal world is violent, ruthless and scary as hell.

Set in Melbourne which has a crime scene that exceeds the underbelly of Kings Cross, Michod introduces us to the Cody family who are true-blue, hardened criminals. Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford), are the sons of a psychotic, sociopathic matriarch called Smurf (Jackie Weaver), who makes a point of kissing them on the lips and even worse, wiping their faces with her spittle.

There’s the old saying that ‘blood is thicker than water’ and this is played out when following the death of his mother from a heroin overdose, Joshua ‘J’ Cody, contacts his estranged grandmother because he recalls that she knows how to arrange funerals. He lies to the police because he is underage and doesn’t want to be carted off into care. Hey, we all make mistakes and ‘J’ is no exception.

When tension between the brothers and the cops start to spiral out of control the characters really develop. This is the best Australian script of this genre since The Boys. The cops are no different to the criminals and are only differentiated by their uniforms. However, in the case of Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), the senior detective who attempts to coerce his witnesses, it is the cut of his suit which is more in keeping with the ‘real’ world. Leckie is the only sympathetic character so that while he uses ‘J’ in an attempt to get to the Codys, at the same time he genuinely feels for him.

There are some nasty subliminal moments in this film which make gratuitous violence seem tame. The inevitable use and abuse of drugs is also part of the scene and they are used to maintain the level of fear and uncertainty that permeates the Cody’s lifestyle. Unlike the bloodbath and hip drug use approach used by the likes of Tarantino and Richie, this more realistic, less cartoonish approach, is more disturbing.

Animal Kingdom is a film which should reap a few AFI nominations. Not only for Anthony Partos’s atmospheric music soundtrack which increased the tension throughout the film, but also for the solid performances. In particular Ben Mendelsohn who gets better as he gets older, Jackie Weaver who revels in the role of her career and Guy Pearce who succeeds in bordering on good and evil. The introduction of James Frecheville is a perfect addition to a company of actors who leave you feeling edgy and uncomfortable and yet at the same time exhilarated by their performances. Don’t miss this one!

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