Movie review by Neil Sadler
Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton, James Frecheville, Dan Wyllie, Anthony Hayes
Director: David MichA”d
ANIMAL KINGDOM is about family. More specifically it is about one family, the Cody’s, a bunch of armed robbers, drug dealers and psychopaths. However through this bunch of criminals, the film aims to speak more broadly about what a family is and how the protectiveness of the family environment is often at the expense of the family itself.
J has been protected by his mother from the worst excesses of the Cody family, but when she dies he has nowhere else to go and is pulled into the lofty bosom of pack mother, Janine. He joins the family at a time when they are on the verge of imploding. As the film reminds us, most criminals realise that there will always be a time when their crimes catch up with them and for the Cody’s that time is now.
The film has already received plaudits from Sundance and a Best Supporting Actress nod at the Oscars for Jacki Weaver and in many ways it is right to receive these. The film has a great sense of claustrophobia. J is an innocent in this world and like him, we feel dragged in and increasingly unable to escape. These are not nice people to spend a couple of hours with. Jacki Weaver quite rightly is getting an acting nod for her icily cold performance. She veers from overbearing incestuous mother to callous protector in a heartbeat, but always with a sickly sweetness and a strangely reasonable tone even when ordering someone’s death.
A more familiar psychopath is Ben Mendelsohn as Pope. Oozing menace within his fractured and insecure persona, you truly don’t know what he will do next and yet he somehow manages to seem a small and frightened character even as he threatens, kills and is generally menacing.
There is little doubt that this film captures the claustrophobia of the situation and there are some very strong performances, but the pacing drags in places and except for a few dramatic scenes, the tension of the characterisation isn’t matched by the tension of the situations.
Mostly this is due to a surprisingly poorly painted “good guy” character in Guy Pearce in the character of Leckie, who attempts to use J to bring down the Cody family. The scenes with him often seem superfluous and take us away from the tension rather than adding to it. Also the situation is left unresolved and so his character feels weak.
When the tension is ramped up, particularly when Mendelsohn is on screen and when Jacki Weaver is at treacly worst, the film is superb, but it lacks the consistency to be a really great film, rather than an average thriller with standout performances.