Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Review | There Will Be a Crime: David Michod's "Animal Kingdom"

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire August 6, 2010 at 4:04AM

Equal parts crime thriller, neo-western and coming-of-age story, the Australian drama "Animal Kingdom" puts its moral compass into a tailspin. Initially, first time writer-director David Michod introduces a basic sense of right and wrong adopted by the most casual entries in good-versus-evil sagas, but he later endows his cruel world with a fittingly tilted vision of justice. Our sympathies lie with alienated teen Josh (James Frecheville), a Melbourne youth whose innocence gets challenged by his older gangster relatives. Michod situates Josh as the moral center, then sneaks in a finale suggesting nothing is sacred. Josh grows up when he grows bad.
0

Equal parts crime thriller, neo-western and coming-of-age story, the Australian drama "Animal Kingdom" puts its moral compass into a tailspin. Initially, first time writer-director David Michod introduces a basic sense of right and wrong adopted by the most casual entries in good-versus-evil sagas, but he later endows his cruel world with a fittingly tilted vision of justice. Our sympathies lie with alienated teen Josh (James Frecheville), a Melbourne youth whose innocence gets challenged by his older gangster relatives. Michod situates Josh as the moral center, then sneaks in a finale suggesting nothing is sacred. Josh grows up when he grows bad.

Michod's cold, hopeless vision of life and death will appeal to fans of early Coen brothers noirs, not to mention those with a penchant for the bleak quest-driven westerns directed by Anthony Mann. Like those movies, "Animal Kingdom" uses the brutality of the genre to evade standard sentimentalism. Michod makes Josh sympathetic without molding him into a hero. Instead, he's a survivalist.

An ironic juxtaposition sets the tone in the opening minutes: Josh sits next to his mother moments after she overdoses on heroin, dividing his gaze between her corpse and a game show playing on television. He then makes a casual phone call to his grandmother (Jacki Weaver), the deceptively fierce matriarch of the family, to alert her of the death. In two scenes, Michod quickly assembles his deadpan style -- moments that should be tragic instead take place with matter-of-fact finality.

This secular vision liberates "Animal Kingdom" from predictability, heightening the tension. When Josh moves in with his four deadly uncles, anything can happen, and developments inevitably take a dour turn. His one apparently well-meaning uncle Barry (Joel Edgerton, half the sibling filmmaker team behind "The Square," another recent Australian noir) drops out of the picture fairly early, leaving Josh in the care of his remaining uncles: Coke fiend Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), outspoken Darren (Luke Ford) and Pope (Bend Mendelsohn), the oldest and most dangerous of the bunch. When Pope's scheme to murder a pair of self-interested cops leads to a police investigation, the family dynamic falls under the scrutiny of the law.

Throughout each development, Frecheville's performance becomes central to the movie's spell. Josh, perpetually stoned and soft-spoken, watches his uncles' misdeeds with an unreadable blank stare. Until the closing scenes, he appears more present than active in the story, although signs point to his gradual psychological transition as the family continually wrongs him. His fury seems bound to erupt any minute, but since he never makes his motives clear, Josh's extreme shyness turns him into a figure likable for his simplicity. Unlike the events surrounding him, his outlook is always uncomplicated and comically direct. "Why do you love me?" asks his girlfriend Nicky, clueless to the larger dangers at hand. Josh doesn't hesitate. "Because you're nice," he says.

Nobody else in Josh's world gives him that security. Pope's self-interested behavior know no boundaries, and his murderous acts eventually relegate him from standard bad guy turf to full-on monster. "Animal Kingdom" consistently builds to dramatic crescendos with the unpredictable nature of Josh's family, whose ghoulish pack mentality nearly mirrors that of the maniacal blood relatives in Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects." Nevertheless, Michod's style eschews horror and instead relies on the anticipatory nature of suspense. His screenplay emphasizes quiet exchanges, a slowness that makes the punctuation of occasional gunfire particularly effective. The crawling pace sometimes veers into monotony, but most of the time, the stillness enhances the thrills.

As Josh's world begins to implode, "Animal Kingdom" adopts a claustrophobic feel. Bodies drop and hopelessness prevails. "I'm having trouble finding my positive spin," moans Josh's grandmother, played by Weaver in an awards-worthy performance -- if only because her hypnotic, power-hungry stare defines the chilly mood.

The sole respite from the darkness arrives with the introduction of investigative officer Leckie (Guy Pearce, in what may amount to his best role since "Memento"), the single person who attempts to rescue Josh from his destructive environment. Leckie's epically profound monologue, delivered to Josh as a life lesson from the father he never had, provides the metaphor of the movie's title ("Everything fits in the order"). The precise impact it has on Josh, however, remains unclear until the very last scene.

With a calculated series of final shots, Michod manages to find an emotionally satisfying climax without falling prey to the temptations of a happy ending. Nobody has full control of the chaos at hand, especially those responsible for creating it. "If you ever want to talk about anything, I'm here," says Pope, an obvious psychopath, to his cowering nephew. By the time the uncle tries to lend a hand, the logic of "Animal Kingdom" guarantees that his assurance is dead wrong.

This article is related to: In Theaters, Animal Kingdom






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More