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Animal Kingdom (2010)

by The Movie Diorama

Animal Kingdom unleashes an unfaltering roar across Australia. The animal kingdom, a hierarchical group of biological creatures that zoologically determine species that are predacious by nature or hunted down by those stronger than them. It is the laws of nature, Darwinism, that the mighty feed on the weak. Natural selection. We, specifically as human apex predators, do what we must in order to increase our survivability odds. For the Cody family, a familial crime syndicate based in Melbourne, that results in suppressing even the most friendly of noises. Their successful drug-distribution has enabled them to purchase a myriad of luxuries in life, including a quaint abode where seventeen-year-old Josh stays after his mother overdoses on heroin. With no alternative shelter, he nestles into the heart of the Cody family tree, commanded by the sweet innocent matriarch who’d do anything and everything to see her boys home and safe.

Michôd based this fictitious story on the Pettingill family, where a pair of brothers were acquitted for slaughtering two police officers at point-blank range. Offering an apt yet palpable string of tension that questions the utilisation of firearms, a measure to prevent anarchy not commence it, and the lengths a family will partake in for the sake of hereditary aggregation. His screenplay is smart, boasting a range of unexpectedly intelligent character choices that defy typical tropes within other comparative gangster features. If a main character bravely meets their early demise, it’s executed with no padding or fuss. Bang! Suddenly, Michôd moves on. An irrefutably powerful and perceptible technique that accompanied the meticulously concise script that he had written.

The Cody family members are developed substantially, with their affection for each other explicitly displayed for added finesse. The line between psychopathy and scrupulous behaviour is depicted through the character of “Pope”. His outrageous criminal activity tests the loyalty of his brothers whilst embedding a commanding presence within the family. We may view the shenanigans through Josh’s innocent perspective, yet somehow Michôd transforms these detestable characters into, well, protagonists. His attentive detail in illustrating the affectionate bonds within the family, instantly adds a light touch of self-justification for their crimes. Impeccably clever, to turn a group of murderous individuals into something more affable.

None of this though would’ve been possible without the sensational performances all-round, with three highlights in particular. Mendelsohn showed the world how brutal his antagonistic capabilities can be, with an arresting performance that cemented his talents almost immediately. Pearce, portraying the “good cop” by convincing Josh not to become a criminal, balances the ethical and moral dilemmas that the main character encounters with a soothingly calm performance. Then Weaver, capitalising on her sweet demeanour, venomously encourages the family through her captivating matriarchal performance. The Brando of Melbourne, perhaps?

Frecheville lacked emotional conviction, mostly offering a monotonously one-dimensional approach, that forced his uncles to be more enticing as individuals. Occasionally Doolan’s sublime editing consequently resulted in the script feeling somewhat scattershot, particularly in the second act, where the tension dissipated after the shopping centre scene. The introduction of the family’s barrister before the court hearing was also spontaneous, resulting in Phillips’ performance being less than impressive.

Still, Animal Kingdom is quite simply one of Australia’s greatest exports. Tight, taut and packed full of explosive performances that provide an animalistic bite to this crime story. A rejuvenated modern-take on the classic gangster formula.