Animal Kingdom - David Michod, 2010
Thereís a poster on my tram line for this film, and it contains the subtitle or tagline, whichever you prefer, ďA Crime StoryĒ. Itís an interesting choice, a strange understatement, a failure to fully comprehend what is presented here over the course of two hours. It's true, but truth is sometimes a slippery thing.
It begins with ďDeal or No DealĒ, a familiar domestic scene, a boy and his mother watching television on the couch. And just before you can fully grasp it, begin to look for the darkness and the unfamiliarity, the paramedics burst in. The mother has overdosed on heroin, her son, Josh, or J (newcomer Frecheville), is strangely, or perhaps suitably, disconnected.
After the gorgeous opening credits, which were highly derided by the others I saw the film with, a voiceover attempts to explain some of the family dynamics. The history of crime, the attempt to live apart, the fear of retribution that permeates that lifestyle. Itís a little unsubtle, and sticks out as a problem in a film that is far more subtle than I expected going in.
Itís a film I probably wouldíve avoided if it hadnít been chosen as the subject for the monthly meetup. Iím generally disinterested in crime stories (see my reaction to GoodFellas
) and I was failing to pay the attention required to see the acclaim this was receiving. And having said all that, let me say how glad I am to have seen this.
Itís a remarkable film that does something I donít know Iíve ever seen another film centered around crime of this sort do: it totally deglamourises it. GoodFellas
never quite manages to convince us that the life of crime is a negative one. Despite all the fall in the second half, it revels too much in the flash, the glamour, the rise. Here there is no rise, only fall. No glamour, only paranoia. The flash is the guns as people get shot, and those who remain have to deal with the consequences.
Itís a ripped from the headlines story. Anyone who sees this would do well to remember that, as implausible as it may seem, this is the story of Melbourne and itís Underworld, and itís more true than you might think. Youíd have to ask someone with a little more life history to explain the actual events and how close to the truth the portrayal is here (thanks Tim), but never forget that people actually would get shot by the police in broad daylight. That corrupt cops were in league with the criminals. That there really were police officers executed, and, as far as I know, whoever did it has never been ďbrought to justiceĒ.
The thing that impresses me, is that it never feels ripped from the headlines. What those aspects give the film is a deeper uneasiness, assisted by the dark score, the no-pulled-punches violence, and the dark, disturbing characters, played with brilliance across the board.
Jacki Weaver is going to get most of the acclaim for her performance as the matriarch of this family, and it is totally, totally deserved. There is a danger, a darkness to her character, a hypocritical backhand, a desire to protect the family at whatever cost that is particularly shocking. But everyone is great. Iím particularly fond of Luke Ford, last seen playing an Autistic teen in The Black Balloon
, who here plays one of Jís uncles, a strange specimen, seemingly more moral than the others, but also drastically more afraid. There is a look exchanged between Ford and Frecheville at the end of this film that is perhaps one of the finest moments Iíve seen on film.
Mendhelsohn is fantastical as an obviously unhinged, incredibly dangerous man. Edgerton is particularly good as well. I really hope that some of these performances achieve the recognition they deserve, especially Weaver, who I feel relatively justified in mentioning in the same sentence as both the Filmspots and the Oscars. I do doubt sheíll get the buzz and the support required, but it would be amazing if she did.
Itís strong writing, although far from perfect. I have problems with act three, and the way it takes a little long to reach a conclusion. Itís a minor flaw tho, and itís compensated for by the exceptionally strong direction. The way that certain scenes are constructed and shot is really masterful, and it makes me really hopeful for the industry and what might be being produced in Australia in coming years.
In fact, itís strong to the extent that Iíve rarely seen in Australian film. It has a stronger structure than the similarly bleak but neverending Samson and Delilah
, and is far stronger than Kokkinosí good, but ulitmately flawed Blessed
. It might just be the best Australian film of the millennium, and up there amongst the greatest this country has produced. A fine, fine effort.Grade:
So. So far in 2010 Iíve seen just one 2010 film. Animal Kingdom
. And only two others that will be considered 2010 by many, and are end-of-year eligible, White Material
. And I tell you what, that makes me very impressed. If it came to the end of the year and I had these films in my top 5, I would call it a more than respectable list. And for me, thatís pretty awesome. Bring on the second half of the year.