ANIMAL KINGDOM Review

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ANIMAL KINGDOM Review
[Tomorrow is the strongest release day of the year and so we are taking the opportunity to pull our reviews of the key new release titles back up to the top of the stack. Our thanks to Ryland Aldrich for the following review.]

One of the most popular films at this year's Sundance Festival - and winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury prize - has been David Michôd's Animal Kingdom. Set in the seemingly calm city of Melbourne, the film is a dark and atmospheric family crime drama.  Michôd shows a lot of directing maturity in his debut feature.  His characters are quiet and all seem to be hiding something.  This juxtaposes very well with the action that roars quick and furiously, leaving the audience shaking.

After the 17 year old J's (James Frecheville) mother dies of a heroin overdose, he goes to live with his grandmother and uncles.  His mother had shielded him from this side of the family because of their criminal dealings.  With no one else to look up to, J is soon helping his uncles with some of their minor criminal tasks.  After J's uncle Baz (Joel Edgerton) is gunned down by police, J's very unstable uncle Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) talks his two remaining brothers into striking back at the police.

Without knowing the whole plot, J helps his uncles lure two random officers to their deaths.  The police react very quickly, hauling in J and his uncles for questioning.  The lead detective Leckie (Guy Pearce) sees J as the key to bringing down the family and pursues his cooperation vehemently.  J's loyalty to his family remains steadfast - but as Pope's actions become more erratic and frightening, Leckie's offers become more attractive.

At its heart, Animal Kingdom is a story about family loyalty.  Pope's younger brothers refuse to stand up to him, no matter how far off the deep end he may have fallen.  J is tasked with deciding what it means to be loyal and what is best for the family.

Michôd's casting is a real strong point in the film.  Frecheville, who is a relative unknown, adds an inner strength to the quiet and unsure J.  Mendelsohn is downright creepy as Pope and the mustachioed Pearce is excellent as the very dynamic Leckie - a man with power who wants to do good, but is ultimately stymied by personal weakness. The real star is Jacki Weaver as the grandmother whose character transformation drives the excellent third act and carries the film to its very satisfying conclusion.

[Ryland Aldrich is a screenwriter and freelance writer based in Los Angeles.  He blogs at enderzero.net]
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