Animal Kingdom is by far the year's best film and the best crime film in years. Its a dark, edgy, engrossing, and nail-biting slow burn crime drama that captures and enthralls you in its brutality, criminality, and ultimately, humanity.
The film is a classic crime tale that evolves around one center character, Josh. Josh, played by a young James Frecheville and the film's opening shot tells us everything we need to know. James, or "J" watches a game show while his mother overdoses from heroin. Comparable to last year's "A Prophet"-a French crime film which was also my personal favorite of the year-the film does focus on a young man caught up in the world of crime. But with Animal Kingdom, "J" is more so held under than really caught up in. He comes from a family of criminals, all of which restrain young Josh from the real world and throw him quickly into the life of crime.
Frechville's performance is outstanding. Since the film is mainly told from his point of view we become more and more involved as the story becomes more and more complex. His performance is restrained but fittingly so. His street hardened attitude is relatable and understandable. From the beginning we see his life as a result of a hard life but we begin to realize just how helpless and trapped young Josh is in all of this. Frechville's nervousness, muted voice, and hard eyes are captured to a near perfect by Michod whose proving that he's a director who understands actors.
Young Josh is held down by his overly demeaning family. More so from Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), his brothers Darren (Luke Ford), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and friend Barry (Joel Edgerton). Pope, like his brothers and their mother, has the general attitude that everyone is for themselves even though they're all part of the same unified family. "J" represents, though he is directly part of the family, the outsider. The one who threatens their criminal way of life. All of this only becomes worse as "J" is apprehended by the police. This of course creates all sorts of problems for the family many of which are guided along by Detective Senior Sergeant Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce). The film is a prime example of how good storytelling is told slowly and is eventually amounted into a stunning conclusion.
Leckie is, to an extent, "J's" guardian angel and rescuer. Pearce, who has been fairly absent from the world of film, give another top notch performance to add to his ever expanding list of great performance. The scenes between the two are intimate, suspenseful, and entertaining.
The entire film consists of fine performances but the best one comes from Jackie Weaver as the mother. Shes a serpent who'll just as quickly invite you into her home and give you a cup of tea as she would stab you in the back. Her heavy smiles and demeaning eyes make her performance the most watchable out of all the others. The other top star here is Mendelsohn who delivers one of the more arresting performances of the year. "Pope" is a frightening figure, one whose dark and mysterious nature is a dangerous weapon when combined with his drug-fueled brutality. He's the kind of man who would explode into a blast of violence and brutality just at the sight or sound of the slightest insult. And that is what make's a great actor.
But rather than putting all of the praise on select actors; to be fair the whole cast does a fine job of bringing to life these conflicted and morally complex characters to the screen. The film is, to an extent, flawless. The only minor flaws are mainly coming from the film's story. Its a regularly used premise, but one thats given a modern day spin. Though despite this the film does have a tendency to be fairly predictable. But all of the predictability is delivered with enough suspense that its able to keep you invested for its whole run. Also aiding this film in its quest is the excellent cinematography which is done both beautifully and gritty. Along with that we're given some excellent editing and sound design which is aided by the help of an excellent soundtrack which features Air Supply's "All Out of Love".
This film made headlines earlier this year at the Sundance film festival, and rightfully so. Michod has created something of a crime classic, a film which can hold itself up to other modern day crime classics like The Coen Brother's "No Country for Old Men" and Martin Scorsese's "The Departed." He knows how to keep a scene going for just the right amount of time while at the same time quickly cutting away any unnecessary material. He's also given us an inventive and enthralling story that makes the viewer question just who is the hero and who is the villain.
"Animal Kingdom" says allot for the Australian cinema. The film has already been released over in Australia and I was lucky enough to get a screener for it. But this is a film that is utterly watchable and deserves to be seen. Another testament to Australia's growing influence on the film industry. Animal Kingdom is by far the year's best film and the best crime film in years. Its a dark, edgy, engrossing, and nail-biting slow burn crime drama that captures and enthralls you in its brutality, criminality, and ultimately, humanity.