First time director David Michod attempts to expose the gritty underbelly of Australia’s Inner city life in this, his raw and uncompromising debut - Animal Kingdom.
The film’s detached mood is cemented from the outset when, Josh ‘J’ Cody, a shy 17 year old boy, is revealed sombrely sat awaiting the paramedics who have been called to remove his mother’s dead body, lost to a heroin overdose taken whilst the pair watched television together.
With no other paternal figure to rely on Josh soon finds himself thrust into his grandmother’s welcoming arms. Clearly aware of his family’s disreputable standing within the community he’s reluctant to become entwined in their illicit dynamic but has few other alternatives.
Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody is the chillingly calm matriarch and mother of this family of immorally driven young men. As Josh’s grandmother, she’s quick to install him into the household’s vibrant atmosphere of immature joviality and bizarre oedipal tendencies.
Quickly becoming immersed within the family business of armed robbery, Josh looks set to be condemned to continue the unlawful dynasty of his lineage until he’s offered an escape route by Nathan Leckie, an honest cop who attempts to convince Josh that he can evade this seemingly inevitable outcome and be kept safe, the catch? He would have to give evidence against this family of serial convicts and morally unstable delinquents – If he’s caught he’ll surely be killed but judging by the way hostility and bloodshed seems drawn to the Cody home, does his present situation lead to any other healthier conclusions?
The film’s slow and calculated pace creates a palpable level of tension within the Cody household which crescendos into a thrilling outcome without relying on superficial gunfights or testosterone driven chase scenes. Using a similar family dynamic as The Godfather, director Michod has created an ensemble cast who present themselves as being as fierce as they are fragile, culminating in a thoroughly naturalistic approach that’s neatly polished with an aesthetically pleasing style.
Goodfellas will always be the bench mark for all good crime films and whilst Animal Kingdom may not quite reach that seemingly unattainable level of acclaim it certainly does a good job in trying. Certain elements are lovingly recreated resulting in that initial adrenaline rush which made you want to embark on an exhilarating criminal lifestyle before the crushingly repellent decline into drug fuelled paranoia is revealed. The movie is undoubtedly a Mafioso crime film with an Australian twist. Instead of the stylish Italian suits we have wife beater vests, whilst the champagne and cocktails are dutifully exchanged for cans of lager; however, it’s in this un-glamorized approach that Animal Kingdom has become one of this year’s most rewardingly enjoyable surprises.
Instant Reaction: 4
Retrospective Score: 3.5