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August 9, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom
Director: David Michod

It took near on ten years for Aussie writer/director David Michod to make this film; a grueling process in which he meticulously edited and re-wrote the script until he didn’t feel it could be improved. Whether or not it could is up to the audience, but one cannot deny the power that lies in his debut—a dense, emotive crime film about the bonds of family and survival.

Animal Kingdom operates more as a family drama than it does as a crime thriller—there is still plenty of tension and bloodshed, but the film’s pacing is slower, favouring the Cody family’s relational dynamics and their gradual disintegration, over that of a plot-heavy narrative. Our narrator is 17-year-old Joshua “J” Cody (a solid performance from newcomer James Frecheville), who moves in with his family, a gang of criminals, after his mother passes. It’s a coming-of-age story at heart, as Joshua learns to navigate between his explosive family and their battle against the local police force.

The characters are works of skill; expertly written and realised through exquisite performances from a cast of Australian greats. They feel like real people and the film’s tension can be largely attributed to the unpredictability of its players. You won’t be sure who to trust—even Sgt Leckie (Guy Pearce, sporting the breakthrough moustache of the year), who acts as a guardian to Joshua, renders doubt to his true intentions throughout. The cast is uniformly superb, highlights being Ben Mendelsohn’s explosively unhinged Uncle “Pope” and Jacki Weaver’s mesmerising performance as the family matriarch; both charming and chilling (“You’ve done some bad things, sweetie”). Additionally, Animal Kingdom manages to balance its rich characterisation with immaculate production—feeling like the work of a seasoned director rather than a first-timer from across the ditch. It looks and feels fabulous, with its choices in shots, music (Air Supply’s ‘I’m All Out Of Love’ has never said so much) and lighting all feeling fully realised and polished.

Animal Kingdom emerges as a remarkably accomplished and affecting film, possibly one of the year’s best. Here’s to hoping Michod doesn’t keep us waiting a decade for his next.

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