ANIMAL KINGDOM (Dir. David Michôd, 2010)
At the center of this Australian crime drama is what seems at first to be a very unlikely protagonist.
James Frecheville portrays a Melbourne based teenager with dead eyes and bad posture who we meet as he awaits medics to tend to the body of his dead mother – a victim of a heroin overdose.
Frecheville is less interested in his mother’s death than he is a game show on television. He calls his grandmother (Jacki Weaver) in hopes of having a place to stay.
Weaver welcomes Frecheville into her home which also houses her 3 sons – Ben Mendelsohn, Sullivan Stapleton, and Luke Ford.
The brothers, along with their friend Joel Edgerton, are armed robbers and drug dealers. The police stake out their one floor shabby home around the clock.
Mendelsohn is the most menacing of the family – the second he appears on screen entering from the darkness, one knows that he will be the source of deadly discomfort later in the film.
As retaliation for the killing of one of their family – the brothers ambush and murder 2 police officers which bring on the investigation by Melbourne's Armed Robbery Squad led by Guy Pearce as a mustached detective without a corrupt bone in his body.
Frecheville has only one bright spot – his girlfriend Laura Wheelwright. When Mendelsohn eyes her though, we get another strong sense of dark foreshadowing.
Director Michôd brings out piercing performances from his cast. Frecheville proves himself worthy as a disaffected kid on the verge of manhood having to get a hold of his life’s direction in the face of the brutality of men like Mendelsohn.
Pearce, as the only “name” in the movie, has a few particularly affecting moments – especially in a monologue that explains the film’s title.
As the family matriarch, Weaver pulls off a creepy yet somehow endearing presence. She lives on the hugs from her sinner sons, and she hints at a not so innocent past of her own.
ANIMAL KINGDOM is a gritty bleak exercise in uneasiness that at times may feel impenetrable – especially with the thick drawl of the accents – but it’s never dull and every scene has an eerie edge that remains long after the film’s cutting conclusion.