Animal Kingdom

‘Animal Kingdom ‘ is an Australian film that is the antithesis of what one might expect of if one’s expectation is sunny, comfortable domesticity with a few beers by the barbie.

The story centres on a family of criminals of four brothers involved variously in armed robbery and drug dealing, and their creepily indulgent mother.  We see it through the eyes of teenager J.  When his mother dies of an overdose he contacts is grandmother, played by Jacki Weaver, little knowing what, as she gives him one of her too clutching embraces, he is letting himself in for.

The film is deliberately unglossy; they are wearing summer clothes, but the sun barely penetrates the poky house where they sit on leather effect sofas.

The plot had me guessing every step of the way, and the tension towards the end made me hold my breath and hold my hand in front of my face ready to cover my eyes; I knew that J would seek revenge, but it is the manner of its execution which created tremendous apprehension waiting for the final denouement.

It is the way the film refuses to present the story according to the usual cinematic stereotypes that made it so interesting.

The actors’ faces are craggy and haunted and  James Frecheville, who plays the young protagonist J, has a blank, dead eyed expression throughout, suggesting bewilderment but also observation; except in one scene of terrible grief in which he sobbed as if he had never cried before.

From the moment Pope, the most dangerous and unpredictable of the uncles, appears we see from his feral slouch to his hooded eyes that there’s something not quite right with him.  The screenplay is very clever in the way it allows the audience to only gradually understand  just how twisted his outlook is.

His repetitious badgering of one of his brothers that ‘you know you can tell me anything. I just want to talk.’ has a threatening feel to it even though it is delivered in an apparently reasonable tone.  But our suspicions are confirmed when his mother asks him some time later ‘Is it time to go back on your pills, sweetie?’.

The soundscape of the movie also defies convention. Too loud at some moments, it creates heightened tension when it is quiet.

When the house is raided by an armed swat team shrouded in black helmets and goggles, instead of the usual shouting and crashing of doors being smashed in with which we are familiar from countless TV and movie sequences, there is silence and we see the action behind the head of J whose expression is unchanged, accepting this event as he has all the unhappy events leading up to it.

It is Guy Pearce, who plays the policeman who thinks he can help J, who gets to explain the ‘Animal Kingdom’ metaphor.  ‘Some are weak and some are strong.  You think you’re strong, but you’re not.  You’re weak.  You’ve been protected by the strong, but they’re not strong any more.’

As the film progresses we guess that J has decided to be strong, and as he grows to understand that there is no-one he can trust, he will assert his own strength.

I went to see the film on the basis that Guy Pearce is in it, and he always makes interesting choices, but in a good ensemble, it is Jacki Weaver, as the smiling, calculating mother who kisses her sons on the mouth for a moment too long, who remains in the memory.

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2 Comments

  1. Rowena,

    I used to do film reviews on my blog, but my own tastes are so peculiar to me that I wondered at their veracity for the common horde.

    I’m glad you’re doing them, we do share a taste for Guy Pearce. I can’t understand why his profile is so low in Hollywood. I suspect he might be one of those actors who genuinely cares less about the money and fame than the work.

    He always does “interesting” work.

    Whether this movie gets to see the big screens here in Atlanta is probably doubtful, but it is now on my list, so I’ll see it eventually.

    I enjoy the reviews, written by someone real.

    brendan

    Reply
    • Hi Brendan
      Thanks. In order to meet my self imposed challenge to do a post each day I have to take inspiration wherever it appears! I generally prefer the more offbeat type of movie so I guess mine are minority tastes, but it’s been useful to attempt to formulate my reactions in writing.
      Jacki Weaver was Oscar nominated for her role so there is a chance the film may hit some screens in the US.

      Reply

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