There are a number of great first shots, none of which I can think of right now, but Animal Kingdom is one of them. Even though it is the first shot of the film, I don't even really want to spoil it. But there is just something that gets you settled in and then quickly unsettles you and it just does such a fantastic job launching the film's mood.
You've got a young kid J and he's thrown closer to his grandmother and uncles who are involved in armed robbery and drugs and such criminal activity and are facing some police pressure. J is a decent enough kid it seems but kind of weak willed and we regret as he gets twisted into their sordid affairs. What follows is a fulfilling, occasionally surprising, crime thriller.
Now, I should say that the ensemble cast here is tremendous, but I'd say the one that deserves special recognition is Ben Mendelsohn as Pope. It is just such a menacing character without ever needing to shout. He does it all in looks. He has a good chance of getting some supporting actor attention from me. The character of J is kind of flat, not calling much of a performance out of our lead actor here, but I wonder if that plainness is what allows us to connect with him so much. It is like what they say about the character of Bella in Twilight. She starts as such a blah character so that the reader is more able to meld into the story.
I feel like part of what the film is doing is J looking for a father figure. He's pulled in equal parts by Pope's colder, commanding presence and the cop Leckie (Guy Pearce) who offers a more nurturing, understanding presence. We get to see J react to both and the general situation in many ways becoming a man, and his own man.
One complaint I would have, a complaint that in many ways is the result of the film having its intended effect, is that one character that dies fairly early in the story went just too suddenly. He had enough time to really reel me in and make me want to go along with him for the whole film and then suddenly before I knew it, he's not in the film anymore. It is one of those things where I both recognize the strength of the decision but also long for the film where I could have the time with the character that I wanted.
Anyway, glad to have finally caught up with this after all the talk. It slides into the bottom part of my top 10 on the year.