A blog about movies and filmmaking.

The Best Kind Of Nature Documentary…About Humans

In drama on June 25, 2010 at 12:09 am

ANIMAL KINGDOM, with it’s misleading title, is in-fact not a documentary and other than the opening title image of a pack of lions; there is no wildlife to be found. Instead what we get is a gripping study into the lives of a family of Australian criminals and the young man that is thrown…well, in a sense, into the lion’s den.

The amazing thing about this movie is that I can’t even tell you about the opening scene, because it’s so insane and unexpected that it really kind of sets up everything that follows. Suffice to say, young Josh (James Frencheville) has to go live with his grandmother and his three uncles, a group of hardened criminals. His grandmother, played magnificently by Jackie Weaver, heads the family almost like a groupie (yeah, it’s kind of gross). His frantic, always getting stoned uncle, covered in tattoos is played by Sullivan Stapleton (THE CONDEMNED?! Well, there goes my record of never mentioning that movie.)  His craziest, yet most serene-like uncle, called “Pope”, is played the malevolent force Ben Mendelsohn (AUSTRALIA and KNOWING), and finally the uncle that is basically the same age is played by Luke Ford (He was in that one THE MUMMY sequel with Jet Li.) And the most down-to-Earth of them all is played by Joel Edgerton (you know, Uncle Owen from the STAR WARS prequels..yeah, I didn’t realize that either.).

The movie is really just a study (which I said) about this family’s dynamic. Through one means or another each man has to step up to become the otherwise vacant patriarch – or alpha male, if we’re sticking with the wildlife stuff (see how it all ties together?) – and we see how each one fails or succeeds. (A little hint, none of them are too good at the latter one, hence the mobility.) But the movie works not because it’s showing us hardened criminals and a sociopathic mother; it works because of the mood. The tension is palpable, even in moments that should be…well, actually “could be” considered lighter in tone. In my old review of THE HURT LOCKER, I called that “one of the most tense movies I’ve ever seen”, and while I don’t know that ANIMAL KINGDOM beats it; it surely keeps you on edge throughout. It does this through prolonged stretches of silence – other than the droning music – and just the faces of the characters who in one moment or other, seem about to explode from the fury in their minds. Oh and sporadic and sudden bits of extreme violence.

It’s this focus and intimidation that these people have that lead me to start with naming the actors performing them. Because they’re all magnificent. Frencheville – in his first filmic role – is amazing as the nearly mute “J”. He’s a teenager who is just there to witness everything that’s happening and even in his most determined, active moment, he still really winds up doing nothing – until the final moment of the movie. And nothingness is a lot of what this move is about. There’s an opening voice-over that talks about how all these people are scared. Even the scariest of them, they just don’t realize it. And it’s this fear that seems to keep all the characters in lock-down. Even the most recognized face (at least for me), Guy Pearce – who also had a fantastic couple of minutes in THE HURT LOCKER – is minimalistic in his approach to the policeman that is trying to bring down this family. (Actually even that description seems more action-oriented than the role really is.)

And I won’t lie; this movie is slow. It’s steady and never boring, but you just never know at what moment everything could come crushing down and the movie would suddenly end – because it feels like that kind of movie. Fortunately, it pays off very well at the end and leaves the audience in the space on wondering what happens next and where these characters can go from here.

ANIMAL KINGDOM, by writer/director David Michôd is overall, pretty spectacular. It’s crime-drama story is deceptive in how simplistic it is and still packs a number of punches. He has a newer movie, called HESHER (starring Joseph Gordon Levitt) that is still waiting to be released and I have to say I’m excited to see what that movie, and the rest of Michod’s career, has in store for me.

Check out the website to find out where you can see this great movie: http://www.animalkingdommovie.com (or http://www.animalkingdomthefilm.com.au/ if you’re down under) and view the trailer below.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Simon de Bruyn, John Muth. John Muth said: And to wrap up my night of tweeting about Animal Kingdom, a review of sorts: http://wp.me/ps9nC-9p Overall, just go see it!! […]

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