Melbourne, Australia. A boy is seated on a sofa in a poor living room: he is looking at some stupid TV program, while a woman is (apparently) sleeping near him. Somebody knock on the door, and two paramedics enter the room. Are you the one who called? They ask the boy. Yes, he answers, his eyes still glued to the screen. What did she take? Heroin.Welcome to the movie with the chilliest first scene of the whole cinema history, welcome to Animal Kingdom.
That woman, just for you to know, was the boy’s mother, and she is dead. For 17 years she tried to keep her son away from the rest of her lovely family, but now that she is gone, Josh is obliged to call his grandma and see if she is willing to help (knowing that mum and daughter didn’t talk to each other for ages…). Grandma is (unfortunately) ready to take care of him and Josh is welcomed inside the Cody family, the least suitable one in the world for a young mind. The Codys are a bunch of bad criminals: the eldest is Andrew “Pope”, specialized in armed robberies, the middle one is Craig, a drug dealer, and the youngest is Darren, the weakest one, who follows the other two in their crazy plans. Above them all, like a dark queen, mum Janine “Smurf” reigns. After one of their partners in crime is shot dead by the police, Andrew and Craig start a vengeance that will suck them into a spiral of deadly consequences. Young Josh, torn between his family, his girlfriend, and a detective who wants to take him out of troubles, will find himself in a very bad position. Will he be able to save himself?
First feature film (wow!) by young Australian director David Michôd, Animal Kingdom (Winner of the Sundance Film Festival 2010) is a modern greek tragedy of epic proportions. It is tough, gloomy and hopeless: no light at the end of this dark tunnel, I am afraid. It is also one of the most anxious movies ever: you literally expect the worst at every moment, and very often the worst arrives and still surprises you. It is interesting to see and live things through the eyes of young, naïve (sometimes irritatingly so) Josh, and to feel frightened by the experiences he is going through. Families are deadly, I read once in a book, and this is particularly true for the Codys. Michôd seems to have had good maestri at school (Scorsese docet) but his style is very personal and he creates a scruffy, vaguely 70’s universe that suits perfectly to the story.
The cast: the Codys brothers are spectacular, especially Ben Mendelsohn as the “Pope”, so good in hiding his craziness under a still surface. In the role of Sergeant Nathan Leckie, Guy Pierce is simply perfect. I love, love, love this actor: he is such a chameleon. In his career, he has played: a drag queen carrying the most incredible Abba’s souvenir in the middle of the Australian bush (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the desert), the toughest and heartless American detective (L.A. Confidential), an anguished and very confused man (Memento), Andy Wharol (Factory Girl), a criminal who has to take a tough decision in a weird Australian western written and directed by Nick Cave (The Proposition), a king who prefers love to kinging (The King’s Speech) and, in this movie, a stern but very human police officer who tries his best to make Melbourne a better place to live (good luck!). James Frecheville as young Josh is almost too good to be true and I prefer to see him in another movie before giving you my opinion, but the real gem, here, is without any doubt Jacki Weaver. Her portrayal of the scary, amazingly cruel, probably incestuous mother is unforgettable. The actress manages to show all the subtleties and the ambiguousness of this terrifying human being with so much charisma that you can’t get enough of her.
You are just very happy to know that she is on the screen and, well, she is not your mother.