Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Second Opinion: Animal Kingdom

Cop and robbers - Aussie style. Animal Kingdom (2010), last year’s Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winning debut feature from writer/director David Michôd, is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs in that it tells a tale of heisters and thieves without featuring a robbery set-piece. Instead, the film patiently observes the behavior of its seedy characters and dwells with them in the aftermath of their criminal activities, as the authorities close in and the nooses tighten. Michôd paints a brutal, modern noir portrait of the Down Under underworld in which the Robbery Task Force isn’t afraid to forgo due process and put their suspects down like dogs in the streets.

James Frenchville stars as Joshua, a quiet, impressionable 18-year old who, as the film opens, is taken in by his Grandmother, Janine (Best Support Actress Oscar® nominee Jackie Weaver), after his mother dies of a drug overdose. Under Grandma’s roof Joshua becomes acquainted with his rogues’ gallery quartet of degenerate thug uncles - all on the run from the law in one form or another. Joshua, inadvertently trapped between a rock and a hard place, will either join the family business to become his uncles’ newest co-conspirator, or he’ll be turned and become the police pawn that solidifies their undoing.

James Frenchville’s Joshua is a bit of a blank; he’s an aloof teen with deeply internalized emotions who’s still searching for his identity - not the most compelling demeanor for a central protagonist. However, it’s an honest portrayal. Walk into any high school and I’m sure you’ll find at least a dozen boys with the same bent. And thankfully, the film more than makes up for Joshua’s inherent dullness with a pungent supporting ensemble. Guy Pierce plays an understanding, mild-mannered detective who wants nothing more than to save Joshua from his ugly predicament. Ben Mendelsohn - in a performance that’ll make your skin crawl - is unsettling and electrifying as Joshua’s sociopathically unpredictable Uncle “Pope.” And Jackie Weaver’s wide eyes and mousy voice play brilliant counterpoint the the icy cold waters that run through her veins as a monstrous matriarch who will do anything for family.

Animal Kingdom is not without its flaws. The final act bobs and weaves through a few too many plot twists, the pacing loses its assured footing, and some sequences, especially towards the climax, are over-stylized/edited to the point where their intentions become muddled. However, as a first feature I think it makes a strong showing and announces David Michôd as a writer/director to keep one’s eyes on. 3/5

For Dave's original Quick Take on Animal Kingdom click HERE.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Yes, there are countless high school kids with blank stares -- but that doesn't make them interesting protagonists in movies. And the Pope character was such an extreme opposite that Michod's film didn't seem to understand what subtlety meant. It was either too much or too little. (Guy Pearce falls in the too little category -- a great actor, saddled with a thankless, lifeless role). They killed off the film's sole interesting character in the first scene -- the boy's mother. I liked her because she was smart enough to stay away from that f*cked up family.


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