The opening credits are accompanied by still photographs of a bank robbery. The music melancholy and foreboding. The final title frame is a portrait of the animal kingdom. The lion standing tall amongst the other animals. The films title hovers for a moment over the portrait and we immediately realize this is a film about power and dominance. What we do not yet know is how the film will depict the destructive nature of such power and it’s fleeting existence.
Animal Kingdom (David Michod 2010) is centered around family. Told primarily from the teenager Joshua ‘J’ Cody’s (James Frecheville) point of view we are immediately thrust into a world of crime, but the glory days are all but gone for the Cody family. They, and their associates, are being hunted by a group of detectives who no longer follow the rules of the law. When one of their closest associates and friends is brutally murdered an act of revenge throws the family into turmoil. What occurs after is a slow and methodical showcase of the unravelling of each individual involved and the paranoia that develops. Fear and anxiety flourish and trust is tested. J, the awkward and quiet boy, tries to remain in the shadows. He is always listening, watching, and absorbing what goes on around him but his inexperience ends up placing him directly in the middle of the Cody family madness. He faces the greatest dilemma, to stand by a family of criminals whom he has no real connection with besides blood, or to side with the law. The law being in the form of a good cop, Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), who only wants to protect J and give him the opportunity to escape from the dangerous underworld. His decision will dictate where he stands and what path he will choose for the rest of his life. The effect it has on the viewer is masterful.
Nothing would be possible in this film without the magnificent performances of all involved. It is extremely character driven and would have been lost if such a talented cast had not been brought together. Credit must be given then to the screenwriter and director, David Michod. The characters he has created are full of so much energy and contradiction you are consistently awaiting their next calculated move, or unbelievable acts. There is not one character who suffers from a lack of development or who does not produce emotion in the viewer; be it hatred, disgust, pity, or fear. The performances are unique to the characters and each has their own voice and motivation. With this you are able to overlook certain issues with editing, the simplicity of the production design, and the occasional sound flaws. It is impossible to assume this movie should be anything but what it is – a tad rough around the edges. In true independent spirit it shows how the story matters, not a glossy finish.
The film provides a perfect blend of dramatic tension and well received surprises, positioned at just the right moments. It is a coming of age tale in the darkest of places. J’s loss of innocence is done quietly and deliberately. We know something is coming as he faces the many obstacles put in front of him but what actually occurs is beyond our expectations. Methodical in its slow pace but perfect in that it does not blur the screen with blood and murder. Instead it deals with the more psychological aspects of this life. The downfall and needed methods to survive. As the grandmother continually remarks about having to look at the bright side of things, we are forced to analyze and live in a state of suspense over what happens when all is dark in this intense Animal Kingdom.
The FilmFracture Breakdown:
Production: 3 clocks
Writing: 4 clocks
Acting: 4 clocks
Animal Kingdom won the Grand Jury Prize World Cinema at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It was also a Gala presentation at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival. The film is set to be released in New York and Los Angeles on August 13, 2010. More information may be found at its website here.