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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
James Frecheville
Guy Pearce
Joel Edgerton
Luke Ford
Jacki Weaver
Ben Mendelsohn
Sullivan Stapleton.
Directors
David Michôd.
Screenwriters
David Michôd.
Running Time
113 minutes

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Animal Kingdom
More Crimewatch than Springwatch


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


Review
Animal Kingdom
At the turn of the 21st century, gangster movies were a dime a dozen. Serious or comic, the blueprint was likely to be one of two things: the brutal, street-philosophical realism of GoodFellas or the tongue-in-cheek, Jack-the-lad capering of Lock, Stock. With so little to work with, it’s not surprising that screenwriters — and audiences — grew weary. Which is why the genre seemed to burn out; while its key elements migrated to films as diverse as The Dark Knight, Eastern Promises, No Country For Old Men and Kick-Ass, the pure, true gangster movie seemed to have run its course.

Recently, however, there’s been something of a revival. Though it’s rough around the edges, 2009’s Down Terrace, directed by Ben Wheatley, made the bold return not just to the gangster movie but to the British gangster movie, the most derided variant of them all. Surprisingly, though, it worked. Down Terrace went inside the gangster’s world — mind, even — to see at first hand how the cogs turned. And while Wheatley was making this film in the UK, David Michôd was doing much the same thing down in Australia. Though it is much slicker, better played and vastly more sombre — its only real failing — Animal Kingdom offers yet another way through the GoodFellas/Lock, Stock impasse by focusing on emotional violence rather than blood and guts or, worse yet, slapstick.

Based on the true-life case of the Melbourne-based Pettingill family, who were involved in the murders of two local policemen in 1988, Animal Kingdom bears more resemblance to recent Italian family drama I Am Love than, say, Sexy Beast. Even the title reflects this; though it is indeed concerned with the criminal jungle, Michôd’s film is very much about the survival of the species. It’s about animals that hunt and those that fall prey — which is what precipitates the central conflict in more than one way — and very much about territorial behaviour. But more than anything it is about origins: how animals are reared, how they evolve and who really leads the pack.

For some viewers, this may be too much of a slow burn. With the exception of Air Supply’s now rather creepy All Out Of Love, there aren’t too many pop-culture touchstones, and the framing, though up-close and intimate at times, is always somewhat detached — appropriately enough, like wildlife footage. And without giving too much away, some very entertaining characters don’t get as much screen time as the opening premise suggests, leaving the film to rest rather squarely on the shoulders of newcomer James Frecheville. And Frecheville’s ‘J’ is not an easy character to warm to; stocky, closed-off, impassive, his demeanour almost passes for wooden until he realises the extent of his family’s amorality, how far they are willing to go, and how he has as much to fear from them as he has the cops.

For a while, J thinks his biggest threat is Pope, and Ben Mendelsohn is extraordinary as this suburban outlaw. Think Al Pacino’s character in Donnie Brasco but younger and crazier. Pope is not normal but behaves as if he is, almost unaware of the stiffened-back tension he prompts in others, choosing not to see the fear in their eyes. He’s relaxed around drugs, even though they kill his sister, and even more so around killing. Pope is the lion king in his neck of the woods, and, without a father figure, J feels pressure from Smurf (Jacki Weaver) to measure up to this most sinister of role models.

Smurf, though, is the real revelation here, and anyone lured into the cinema by Weaver’s spate of recent award nominations might wonder for quite some time if this is another of those Dame Judi things, where a little goes a long way. Those people should stick with it; though Animal Kingdom deals with an awful lot of testosterone, it has in Smurf its very own Lady Macbeth, a woman whose motherly love may well be selfless but is finite and definitely not available to everyone, as J learns to his cost. This is Michôd’s body-blow and he saves it for the final round. Again, it would be a spoiler to say which way things go; suffice to say, Animal Kingdom is that rarity: a gangster movie that — imagine this — makes you wish there were more of them.


Verdict
A dark rites-of-passage story meets lethal Shakespearean drama, with low-key performances that artfully get under the skin.


Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Animal Kingdom
Empire Star Rating

Bloody families

While we’ve encountered films like this before – a family of criminals all start to implode with bloody consequences – newcomer director Michôd wrings a few interesting twists on his grim tale to keep it a bit more surprising. The fact that it’s Australian is the most obvious one, but it does feature an outstanding cast of some of the best Aussie actors. Young Frecheville makes for an interesting lead in that he’s virtually a blank canvas throughout who slowly ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RJNeb2 at 15:55, 02 July 2014 | Report This Post


Find it and rent it

A PBS TV station here in NYC shows this from time to time and I will eventually buy a dvd copy. This is one of the more frightening presentations of criminal thinking and behavior with wonderful performances by the entire cast. Find it and rent it ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by neilthemessenger at 20:28, 27 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

L: jrewing1000 heavy stuff. So heavy in fact that by the time the credits roll, you need to catch your breath and pause, just to soak up what just happened.uperb filmmaking. A character movie with real poetry and depth, beautifully shot, beautifully paced. Guy Pearce plays a small but important role amongst a fantastic unknown (in the UK at least) cast. I loved how the story kept corkscrewing itself deeper and deeper into darkness, with the central character, 18 year old Jay, at the c... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by princessa at 17:09, 17 June 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

Wow, what a winner this is, and I've put off watching it for months...must stop doing that. Directed with style but not over-directed, paced to perfection (bar a slight dip in the final act, but not for long), fantasticly menacing soundtrack, and tension oozing out...and then there's Ben Mendelsohn giving an amazing performance that creates a character who comes across as docile, harmless and totally psychopathic all at once - not in the way that Gosling's Driver is the cute bloke next ... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 23:09, 24 April 2012 | Report This Post


Pretty average!

After all of the amazing reviews on how this compares to the likes of Goodfellas I had high hopes for this Ausie gangster flick. As it was I actually found myself quite bored in places and didn't really find anything in it that impressive or astonishing. It had a little bit of a TV movie feel to it, which I don't mind too much, but I felt like most of the time I was waiting for something to happen. I will probably watch it again at some point when I'm bored as I might not have been in the right ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dannyfletch at 21:38, 12 January 2012 | Report This Post


Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom delivers one of the most gritty, visceral and starkly realistic films of recent years. Every performance within is brutally honest, the soundtrack is impacting without drawing too much attention to itself, and a huge level of tension is built throughout, without the film having to actually do too much. The deaths are also shocking, taking me completely by surprise. It's a harrowing watch, and you definitely need to be in the right mindset, but I guarantee once you've given ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Whistler at 14:31, 13 December 2011 | Report This Post


RE:

Caught this on Blu Ray last night. I found it to be really subtle, measured film making. It has really stayed with me. I hope it gets a good following on DVD, as it is a marvellous film. ... More

Posted by TrendMeUp at 15:37, 17 August 2011 | Report This Post


One of the year's best. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gerard Lough at 16:14, 11 August 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

L: Deviation L: Dr Leo Marvin Why the hype? Because it's Australian and not complete shit? nd the Facepalm award for dumbest comment on Film Reviews goes to.... derstand completely ... More

Posted by Dr Leo Marvin at 09:38, 09 April 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

Just seen this on region 1 dvd. A quality crime thriller, with superb acting lifting it into a **** rating. Jacki Weaver turned in a decent enough performance, but the film truely belongs to Ben Mendohlson as Pope. I havn't seen a villan played with such an unnerving presence in a long time...Should you bag yorself a copy, ignore the dvd sleeve - it touts Guy Pearce as one of the main characters, but as good as he is, the part barely registars. Shame most cinemas didn't bother to show - hence t... More

Posted by film man aidy at 16:13, 30 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

L: Dr Leo Marvin  Why the hype? Because it's Australian and not complete shit? nd the Facepalm award for dumbest comment on Film Reviews goes to.... ... More

Posted by Deviation at 13:16, 30 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

I think you should really ****SPOILER**** tag your review thresholdp; I agree with most on this thread.  Mendelhson was tremendous and it's a decent film. ... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 11:17, 30 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

Being Aussie (e very proud to have this being labelled australian. This is a crime classic The vague period that it's set in (computer talk in one scene, looking 70's in another) suggests that this will be a timeless story. Performances are amazing!!! Ben Mendohlson should have been nominated for oscars, Jacki Weaver is as amazing and the mummy 3 kid is very good as well. Stand out scene??? Well I'd say where pope kills the kid's girlfriend by overdose and walks away with her body in ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by threshold at 06:09, 30 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

Crime dramas on a whole tend to do the traditional thing of squeezing as much sensationalism as possible out of the events unfolding - whether it's theft, murder, betrayal or something in between these three factions. Consequently it's resulted in a genre of cinema that in recent times has flooded multiplexes and arthouses with tired, unremarkable fare ridden either with cliché or homage's to better works from a previous era. Whilst it doesn't necessarily reinvent the genre, Kingdomse ste... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 03:44, 26 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

Okay, well, it appears my post about this film has been deleted. I was merely praising it, but okay. Extrodinary film, though. ... More

Posted by nhassell at 12:57, 01 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

L: Dr Leo Marvin It's all very dull, bad guys die cops are useless/crooked. Why the hype? Because it's Australian and not complete shit? nimal Kingdom is far worthier of its praise than this reviewer would suggest. Why the hype? Because it's a very well made film in all departments. I couldn't care less if it came from Timbuktoo. A brilliant film is a brilliant film, wherever it's from and whatever it's about. ... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 10:32, 01 March 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Blistering

ll very dull, bad guys die cops are useless/crooked. Why the hype? Because it's Australian and not complete shit? o we have to have Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme fans who are numpty idiots commenting on movies? Fantastic movie with fantastic performances and the very fact it's Australian has probably meant it has gone unnoticed!!! Goes to show a great script with superb acting can carry a movie.................grossly under rated ... More

Posted by spides at 07:00, 01 March 2011 | Report This Post


Blistering

A phenomenal debut from writer/director Michod. Incredible performances from a great ensemble, highlighted by Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver. Tense, taut and utterly compelling - The best crime drama in years! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Iago 1979 at 13:02, 28 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

This is heavy stuff. So heavy in fact that by the time the credits roll, you need to catch your breath and pause, just to soak up what just happened. Superb filmmaking. A character movie with real poetry and depth, beautifully shot, beautifully paced. Guy Pearce plays a small but important role amongst a fantastic unknown (in the UK at least) cast. I loved how the story kept corkscrewing itself deeper and deeper into darkness, with the central character, 18 year old Jay, at the centre of t... More

Posted by jrewing1000 at 18:31, 27 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

Director/Screenwriter:Michôd Starring: recheville, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver Synopsis Following the death of his mother, seventeen year-old J (Frecheville) navigates his survival amongst an explosive criminal family and the detective (Pearce) who thinks he can save him. Review The most recent film that explored the criminality within the city of Melbourne, Australia was Geoffrey Wright’s modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbethich its pack... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 16:24, 26 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

A modern day Australian crime saga, Animal Kingdom follows Joshua Cody, a young man taken in by his estranged grandmother following the death of his heroin addict mother. Introduced to a world revolving around crime, drugs and violence, Joshua spirals deeper and deeper into trouble. As the story unfolds, and the police become more heavily involved, Joshua is given the opportunity to break away from his family, finding the boy caught in between justice and relative affiliation. A wavering i... More

Posted by adambatman82 at 10:50, 26 February 2011 | Report This Post


RE: Animal Kingdom

really? think this has been way over praised. Pretty standard cops and robbers fair, Jackie Weaver's character is just plain mental and difficult to understand. The Oscar nomination seems based on the oddness of the character. It's all very dull, bad guys die cops are useless/crooked. Why the hype? Because it's Australian and not complete shit? ... More

Posted by Dr Leo Marvin at 01:48, 26 February 2011 | Report This Post


the people are the animals; the men strutting and posturing , snarling and snapping and, most times, forgetting to leave their guns behind. The women are deceptive and lethal as snakes........... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sallym at 17:05, 13 February 2011 | Report This Post


Searing crime-thriller. Fantastic performances all round. A breath of fresh air to the crime genre. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by johnacide at 01:11, 10 February 2011 | Report This Post


best fim of 2011

i saw this on australian dvd back in october jacki weaver is oscar worthy Ben Mendelsohn is beyond oscars astounding the kind of performance gary oldman used to give... was very happy to see it nominated for best supporting actress scary brave shocking amazing film ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bill the butcher at 16:13, 04 February 2011 | Report This Post


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