Directed by: David Michod
Written by:David Michod
Starring: Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville
Released: June 3, 2010
Grade: A-

Let me describe the first scene in Animal Kingdom.  Joshua (Frecheville), known simply as “J”, is a teenager living in Melbourne.  He’s sitting on the couch at home watching Deal Or No Deal.  His mother lies unconscious beside him having overdosed on heroin.  The paramedics suddenly charge through the door and start treating her.  As this goes on, J keeps watching the television.  It’s as if he’s more interested in the game show than the welfare of his mum.

I knew straight away that this would be an interesting film.  It’s a strong opening which will immediately grab your attention.  In turns out that J’s mother dies and he is forced to live with his grandmother and his three uncles.  This is no ordinary family.  They’ve been involved in armed robbery and drug dealing.  The police are watching them like hawks and are looking for evidence to pin against them.

It’s the police that make the first move… albeit a foolish one.  I won’t say too much more because this particular scene came as quite a surprise.  It sets in motion a serious of shocking events fuelled by hatred.  The cops are determined to get justice.  The family is determined to get revenge.  Both sides will stop at nothing to win this battle.  The law counts for very little.

Animal Kingdom features some of the finest performances of the year.  Ben Mendelsohn is incredibly off-putting (in a good way) as the patriarch of the family.  There’s a great scene in which he’s grilling his younger brother (played by Luke Ford) about the colour of his shirt.  It illustrates his character’s power but also his paranoia.  It’s a dangerous mix.

Jacki Weaver also makes an impact as J’s grandmother.  She’s a cunning character who reveals her true colours late in the film.  It’s the kind of role likely to pick up awards attention later in the year.  I was also impressed with newcomer James Frecheville.  He portrays J as a quiet kid but at the same time, you’re never quite sure what’s going through his head.  Does he really understand the gravity of the situation?

It’s a great script from writer-director David Michod.  I particularly enjoyed how it shows the two parts to the story – from the family’s perspective and the cop’s perspective.  This isn’t a simple good versus evil story.  There’s a lot of “greyness” to the characters and it’ll be interesting to see who audiences sympathise with.

In my eyes, the film’s weakness is its ending.  I just didn’t buy it.  Maybe I need to think about it some more but I had trouble reconciling J’s actions.  I also think that some of the subplots were undeveloped.  We meet a few people along the way (such as J’s girlfriend’s family and two young police officers) but we don’t spend enough time with them to justify their inclusion.

Given the appeal of the Underbelly television series, I’m sure plenty of Australians will be keen to see this new crime drama on the big screen.  It’s definitely worth your money.