One of the blurbs on the DVD cover called Animal Kingdom “Australia’s answer to Goodfellas”. Yeah right!
Let me clarify at the outset that I am no worshipper of all things Martin Scorsese. I think the man is cool, I hope I have as much enthusiasm for my work when I get to be his age and I think he has made some very fine motion pictures. But I do not love everything he has done. So I’m not taking any specific umbrage to that blurb. I just needed to state that it was there and that I had read it and I disagreed.
Animal Kingdom clocks in at under two hours. To my mind that is a good thing. Shorter is always better (in good and bad cinema). That said I was constantly aware of how slowly things were progressing in this movie. It couldn’t have been the accents – I’ve followed way more complicated narratives in languages I did not understand. It couldn’t be the cultural difference (though we don’t get as much Australian cinema as we do Bollywood and Hollywood fare). So it had to be the movie.
The IMDB synopsis gives us information that isn’t actually in the movie. But this is sort of how it goes: Joshua (James Frecheville) moves in with his mother’s family after she dies of a heroin overdose. The family members are all criminals—a couple of bank robbers and a drug dealer. All of this dodgy activity is carried out under the watchful eye of Janine (Jacki Weaver) the mother of Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford).
Guy Pearce plays the police officer charged with getting Joshua to talk when things start going wrong and dead bodies start piling up.
Sound exciting? It really isn’t.
The pace is slow, the colours are washed out and everything about this film is designed to make it seem more important than it is. Including that bit where they try and tell us that Mama Cody (that is the criminal family’s last name by the way) is the chillingest thing to walk across frames of celluloid. She really is not. Michelle Williams was scarier in Blue Valentine. And Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction, now that was one cold-hearted bitch!
I don’t know Ms. Weaver by reputation but I was unimpressed by her requiring-a-kiss-on-the-mouth portrayal of the mater familias. The ‘decision’ she makes when her surviving family members are threatened doesn’t really serve to make her any scarier either. Mildly creepy maybe, but that’s about it. She won’t be visiting my nightmares anytime soon.
The same goes for Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Pope. He adopts stillness as the shtick to up his ‘creepy quotient’, carries out some ill-advised actions that seem like they happened to move the screenplay forward (rather than because this character would behave in that manner). I wasn’t buying it.
The character of Joshua is supposed to be the audience’s surrogate in this movie – we see the Codys the way he does. We are just as disconnected from the world of this movie as Joshua seems to be, even though he is in it. He appears to have a decent instinct for survival, but little else. So while Mr. Frecheville does a decent job of inhabiting his character it is unclear to me why writer/director David Michôd thought we might care.
Animal Kingdom felt like not really much of anything by the time the end credits rolled. I never understood why this lot were an important crime family. But then again, maybe they do things differently in Australia.