Animal Kingdom * * *

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Director: David Michod
Screenplay: David Michod.
Starring: James Frecheville, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, Mirrah Foulkes, Josh Helman, Justin Rosniak.

Anyone that’s familiar with the Australian television show “Neighbours” will know what I mean when I refer to this as the underbelly of ‘Ramsey Street’. I’m not a fan of said television show and I’m not entirely convinced by the praise this film has critically received either.

After the accidental death of his heroin addicted mother, 17 year-old Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) goes to live with his grandmother, ‘Smurf’ (Jacki Weaver), and her criminal sons, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford). The sudden arrival of their fugitive older brother, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), gets the attention of the local cops, kick-starting a turf war that sees ‘J’ forced to fight for his survival.

As the film opens we get a decent introduction to the stoical nature of young ‘J’ as he shows a real lack of compassion, sitting on the couch watching TV, next to his deceased mother. This persona is no different from most of the characters throughout the film. The majority of them are devoid of any morals and the actors portraying them put in fantastic performances, particularly Mendelsohn as the unstable uncle and especially Weaver as the wicked-witch like matriarch. Despite the performances though, I still stuggled to see what all the fuss was about. Much like “Winter’s Bone” from the same year, this has been subject to critics clambering over each other to applaud it’s gritty dramatic nature. I found several things to enjoy; the performances and low-key style in which it’s shot being the notable ones but it’s certainly nothing groundbreaking. Being loosely based on fact, there’s a definite feeling of realism but as mentioned earlier, it reminded me of an extended episode of “Neighbours” – with the gloves off – and I pretty much avoid Australian television whenever possible.

Not a bad film, in fact it’s very good in places but it’s been overpraised somewhat. There’s no faulting the flawless performances though and it’ll be interesting to see what writer/director David Michod comes up with next.

Mark Walker

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