Animal Kingdom scooped up numerous awards at the Australian Film Awards last year, but unfortunately didn’t seem to get picked up by judging panels anywhere else. However the film is one of the most powerful and moving dramas to grace cinema screens in years, and absolutely recommended to all.
The films plot follows young Australian teen Josh/J (Frecheville). After his mother dies of a heroin overdose, J goes to live with his grandma and uncles, but is quickly drawn into their world of criminal dealings. After one of J’s uncles, Bez (Joel Edgerton) is murdered by the police, his remaining uncles vow revenge and J is drawn into a world he doesn’t really understand. Meanwhile Guy Pierce is detective Leckie, who wants J to testify against his uncles.
Animal Kingdom deals with a pretty harrowing issue and the film repeats a motto throughout of criminals coming unstuck, and J’s uncles certainly do that, but so do the family relationships. Scenes of brutal violence and drug abuse are contrasted against what is essentially a family story, an unusual combination which makes for some mesmerising scenes as the two worlds collide with often absurd results. There are a couple of light moments of humour to break the tension, for example when a family meeting takes place in an art gallery as they don’t trust each other enough to not meet in a public place, but the film mainly remains on the side of grit rather than humour.
James Frecheville gives an absolutely outstanding performance as J, commanding a heavy amount of respect with this impressive debut in a portrayal very similar to Connor McCarron in Peter Mullan’s NED’s earlier in the year. Frecheville is never guilty of over acting and his quiet movement and expressive face convey his deep anguish at having to choose between his family and the law. Elsewhere Mendelsohn is also superb as J’s completely crazy and confused uncle Pope, who is on the run from the police. Jacki Weaver manages to be convincing as J’s evil grandmother, with moments of pure jaw drop reaction as she connives and manipulates her sons and J for her own gain.
Apart from these terrific central performance its the direction from first time David Michod that really makes this film stand apart. Heavy moments of tension and drama are beautifully composed, and the accompanying choice of music and lighting make the doom and tragedy of J’s position even more upsetting and weighty. Added to an innovative and surprising screenplay by Michod, Animal Kingdom will stun any audience into silence with its visual beauty and dark realistic portrayal of criminality.
With rave reviews globally, its a real travesty that Animal Kingdom has been ignored by the major award ceremonies, as it is far worthier film then many of the other nominees. This riveting drama presents a heartbreaking and moving story that combines all the elements sometimes missing from that ‘perfect film’ with great acting, cinematography and music constantly. If you watch one film this year, watch Animal Kingdom.