Animal Kingdom – On DVD

Art & Culture

It’s such a rare treat to see a good film sometimes, that it’s easy to get carried away, but I did think this was an excellent and unusual crime movie, which deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the best.

J is a tall and slightly gormless teenager living in Melbourne with his mother. She dies, and having nowhere else to go, he winds up at his grandmother’s place. The grandmother and mother had fallen out some time ago, and we can soon see why. Janine Cody (Jackie Weaver) is the matriarch of a criminal family. Her three sons and their friends are all crooks, given to violence and robbery, and they are on the shit list of the dangerously volatile Armed Response Unit. J finds himself in the middle of this showdown, and although it would be an exaggeration to say that blood is thicker than water, he has little in the way of alternatives.

Until a cop called Leckie (Guy Pearce) comes along. He has identified J as the weak link in the family system, and tries to woo him away from their influence, with a combination of paternal concern and threats. Meanwhile Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), the most psychotic of the brothers, begins to suspect that J and his girlfriend are not entirely to be trusted, and J is caught in the middle, squeezed from both sides.

The film doesn’t show the Cody family engaged in any of their nefarious activities, apart from a revenge attack, but mainly concerns itself with the family dynamics, with Janine as the apparently charming mother (who kisses all her boys on the mouth in a decidedly creepy way) exerting a stranglehold on her all-male brood, even as the whole structure begins to fall apart. It’s an impressive debut from David Michod, who based the story on real life events in Melbourne 20 odd years ago. There’s also a definite influence from the 1948 movie White Heat, which stars James Cagney as Cody Jarrett (notice the use of the same name). He had a distinctly Oedipal bond with his mother, and the phenomenon which is in evidence here. There are a few moments when the film maker’s urge to show off overcomes him, with more slow motion than is strictly necessary, and a little to much music, but otherwise, this is a film to be proud of. I only hope that as many people as possible go and see it.



Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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