- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ometimes it can be awfully lonely as a film critic, at least when it comes to a movie that almost everyone seems to love except you. David Michôd’s directorial debut, “Animal Kingdom,” certainly isn’t the first time I’ve gone against the majority, and it won’t be the last. While many have praised the Australian import as one of the best movies of the year, “Animal Kingdom” is a surprisingly average crime drama that, despite some good ideas branching from its metaphorical title, is rarely as daring or engaging as it wants you to believe.
The movie does have a few moments of brilliance, however, like its opening scene, which beautifully stages the introduction of the teenage Josh (James Frecheville) as he patiently waits for the EMTs to arrive and take away his mother, recently overdosed on heroin, while watching “Deal or No Deal” on the couch next to her body. With nowhere else to go, Josh's grandmother (Jacki Weaver) swoops in to take him to live with her and his uncles in Melbourne. They haven’t seen him in ages, and you can understand why his mother may have wanted it that way, because his uncles Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and Darren (Luke Ford) also happen to be bank robbers who are currently on the run from the police. When an act of violence on one of their own prompts the Cody brothers to exact revenge by killing a couple of cops, Josh is caught in the crossfire as he must decide between sticking with his family or saving his own ass by helping the officer (Guy Pearce) in charge of the investigation.
There’s a very “Goodfellas”-like vibe to it all, as the mounting pressure from the police causes paranoia within the family, but unlike the Martin Scorsese gangster epic, there’s not a single character in “Animal Kingdom” that the audience can identify with. Josh is either too stupid or naïve to realize the kind of trouble he’s in (and it doesn’t help that newcomer Frecheville has zero charisma and mumbles through most of his lines); Mendelsohn’s Pope is the wildcard of the bunch, but is far too one-note to leave any impression; and Ford’s character is so utterly disposable that removing him from the story wouldn’t change a single thing. Stapleton’s tattooed drug dealer is probably the most interesting of the three uncles, so it’s a shame to see him get such little screen time, along with Joel Edgerton as their partner and the most levelheaded of the bunch.
Most of the characters aren’t even given much depth except for Jacki Weaver’s matriarch, and even then, it’s a slow, calculated reveal that exposes the affectionate granny for what she really is. She’s perhaps the most intriguing gangster mom since Tony Soprano’s mother ordered the assassination of her own son, and Weaver is absolutely fantastic in the role. It’s the only noteworthy performance in the entire film, apart from the ever-reliable Guy Pearce, who might just be the only thing keeping the movie from falling apart in the final act. The film still moves at a glacial pace, however, and though it initially works in creating a tense, suffocating atmosphere, the incessant use of slow motion and Antony Partos’ brooding score starts to lull you to sleep. That might not be the case if there was more actually happening, but although "Animal Kingdom" gets off to a strong start, it's far too bland and predictable to really hook you.