Monday, December 27, 2010

Animal Kingdom

One of the regrets I had earlier this year was that I missed Animal Kingdom at the theater.

Animal Kingdom starring Ben Mendelsohn, James Frecheville and Guy Pearce; directed by David Michôd; (2010) - Official Website

Animal Kingdom, an Australian film, won a Grand Jury prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It made the rounds earlier this year at the Kabuki and Red Vic, I believe. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it was playing at the Landmark Opera Plaza beginning on December 24.

The story begins with quiet and stoic Josh sitting next to his mother watching television. It turns out she is dead (overdosed on heroin) but that does little to stop Josh from concentrating on his show. This typically traumatic event starts an astonishing and horrific journey for Josh (although the nonchalance he exhibits after his mother dies next to him gives an indication of Josh's capabilities).

Josh goes to live with his grandmother, "Smurf" Cody. As we discover from Josh's narration, Smurf is matriarch to a low-level criminal family consisting of Josh's maternal uncles - Pope, Craig and Darren and family friend Baz. The four of them engage in armed robberies and Craig is a low level drug dealer. Pope is the most dangerous of the bunch. Cruel and likely psychotic (his "meds" are mentioned), Pope draws Josh into his sphere of influence with disastrous results for everyone involved.

The film distinguishes itself by the way it portrays the outlaws. Rather than brassy and full of false bravado, Pope is laconic and has feral eyes as if he is always stalking his prey. His prey soon become Josh. The title refers to Guy Pearce's description of the criminal underworld. Pearce plays a cop that is trying to throw Josh a lifeline. He tells Josh that there are hunters and the hunted and Josh is one of the hunted. However, Josh is more resilient than anyone can imagine.

The film is marked by strong performances by the entire cast but Ben Mendelsohn as Pope, Joel Edgerton (also in The Square) as the level-headed Baz and James Frecheville as the frightened but determined Josh merit special recognition.

Animal Kingdom kept me on the edge of my seat. A scene involving Pope and Josh's girlfriend was very unsettling. The ending was quite a surprise too which doesn't happen to me very much anymore. Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite films from 2010.

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