Wednesday 16 February 2011

Review: Animal Kingdom

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director:  David Michôd
Screenplay:  David Michôd
Starring: James Frecheville, Jackie Weaver, Ben Mendelshon, Guy Pearce

Synopsis is here:

We start Animal Kingdom with the lead character J idly watching television with what looks to be his sleeping mother. It is only when the paramedics rush in and tend to his mother (overdosing on heroin) that the distress seeps in. J continues to watch the television as if what's happening is almost a common occurrence. His blank gaze appears to give off the feeling, not that he doesn't care, but that he's completely desensitized. It's a look that doesn't seem to change throughout the movie. However, by the time the last moments play out and I saw that look once more I released how effective David Michôd piece is.  J is a sponge, soaking up all he sees. The re-appearance of his psychotic Uncle Pope to the constant questioning by the police, J sucks it all in. The tension lies in his tetchy family, because now it's all soaked in, they are now fretting for when it gets squeezed out.

Animal Kingdom is a low-key, high tension film from Australia which comes along on the back end of quite a few crime features. Not just crime however, but working class crime. Features such as French heist film Black take us to the back alleys of Senegal. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans revels in depravity within a post-Katrina sub-culture while The Town is another welcoming addition in Ben Affleck's gritty Boston overture. Animal Kingdom follows the line in a similar fashion to Affleck's film, dumping us in a claustrophobic small town where the sun may shine all day but these character will still have trouble finding the light.

Animal Kingdom plays out almost like a Greek tragedy, examining a fallen family of crime who are now all looking to seek where they fit in a world where their way of life is under threat. Their eco system has changed and the biggest alteration is of course is the presence of J, who is a square peg in this family circle. The attachment of the family is well observed with hints of incest littered every so often. When J is introduced to them, they appear welcoming, but their looks are constantly deceiving. This proves the basis for the story that plays out for us. Violence comes about in short sharp bursts, but AK is more interested in character behaviour than anything. Playing us down the route of survival, the film shows us a group of people at their most primal. They will claw and scratch to keep afloat and moral is just a word in the dictionary.

This is a film of great turns with three performances which come on strong at at different angles. Pope; played by Ben Mendelshon, is a chilling and repugnant creation that brings a chill whenever he appears on screen. Jackie Weaver is equally as vile but from a quieter and more troubling angle. The most kudos goes to the 17 year old James Frecheville who in his second feature has the most complicated character to pull off. J appears to be as wooden as a plank but a quick observation shows how well connected Frecheville is to the characters age and educational status. But most importantly the display also shows; just like Malik in Un Prophete, how this character consumes the activity around him. Combine Frechveville's dead eyed stare with director Michôd's seeping effect of this family's corrupt ways and we obtain a a perfectly executed Kuleshov effect put in place. We truly believe that the same state we saw at the beginning of the story means something completely different by the end. This is a difficult, unsympathetic person to get behind but by the time Air Supply's "I'm all out of love" I found myself deeply engrossed in the outcome of this character. Credit not only to the actor but the storytelling.

What excites me about Michôd's début full length feature, is the just how confident it all is. The visual touches are never overused (some great moments of slow motion are utilised), the films powerful score made winning me over all the more easier and we are given a narrative which isn't fuelled by many twists and turns but is executed so well that I honest hadn't a clue where the film was going. This is tightly wounded, gripping genre cinema drenched in atmosphere and pounding with tension. I cannot wait to see this movie again.