By Don Simpson | August 26, 2010
Director: David Michôd
Writer: David Michôd
Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton, James Frecheville
We meet the 17-year-old Josh “J” Cody (James Frecheville) as he sits beside his recently deceased (by way of heroin overdose) mother watching Deal or No Deal in their depressingly concrete flat. With no one else to turn to, J phones his estranged grandmother “Smurf” Cody (Jacki Weaver) for assistance with the funeral arrangements (though the funeral never seems to take place). Grandma Cody takes J under her wing — scratch that — paw, allowing him to live with mama lion and her three thuggish cubs (Ben Mendelsohn, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton) in their den of crime. The lioness relentlessly dotes on her cubs, bestowing uncomfortably passionate kisses upon them that linger to the brink of being incestuous.
Abiding solely by the Darwinesque rules of the concrete jungle, the brotherhood (along with their cohort, Baz [Joel Edgerton]) of armed robbers and drug dealers have become public enemy numero uno to Melbourne’s blood thirsty armed-robbery squad. Whether he likes it or not — something we will never know, thanks to his numbed and blank facade — J is unavoidably and instantly thrust into the family biz (the precise reason J’s mother kept her son so far away from her mother and brothers).
For reasons unknown, Melbourne’s finest cannot nail the Cody clan. In an act of apparent desperation the police gun down Baz in broad daylight, successfully eliciting a sloppily violent response from the three brothers; from this point onward, every act of violence is tit-for-tat. (Animal Kingdom is all about predation and surviving purely on instinct.)
The only upstanding (read: not trigger happy) policeman is Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), a cold and methodical police sergeant who tries to gain J’s trust in the hopes that his testimony alone would send the surviving members of the Cody clan to prison. Surprisingly, the trial is not shown onscreen and we learn the judgement in a very awkward and stunted manner.
Though haphazardly and inexplicably narrated by J several years after the onscreen events, writer-director David Michôd’s film does successfully deglamorize criminal life all the while visualizing the class struggle that got the Cody clan into this mess. Exemplified by the game shows (such as Deal or No Deal) on the television, the Cody clan are only looking for quick and easy cash (acquiring legitimate employment seems to be out of the question). The only options that are available to them — excluding winning a game show and succeeding in the stock market — are armed robbery and drug dealing. The Cody brothers never seem to contemplate risk, they (like animals) only function on initial instinct.
Where Animal Kingdom might fail, at least in terms of box office appeal, is due to its clumsy and sluggish narrative…oh, yeah, and Michôd’s crippling over-reliance on slow motion tracking shots (which slows the onscreen events down to a snail’s pace). But, in some ways, the dilatory pacing of Animal Kingdom makes the film all that more appealing to me. (Let’s just say that compared to Guy Ritchie’s A.D.D. style of over-the-top quick-paced action, the pacing of Michôd’s narrative resembles a Yasujirô Ozu film.) Michôd allows the audience plenty of time to contemplate the onscreen events and their empathy — or lack there of — for the characters; though being that the camera spends so much time meditating on J, his emotionless and brooding attitude makes it extremely difficult to feel anything for him. Sure, many critics are rejoicing in Michôd’s nontraditional crime film; but, really, when it comes down to it I just wonder how many film-goers will want to sit through a crime film with no action.