(No longer in theaters)
Sony Pictures Classics
Aug 13, 2010
The 17-year-old protagonist, “J” (James Frecheville), of the Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom, is more inexpressive than I’d have liked, although the movie would be less bloodcurdling if its hero didn’t stand there, mouth open like an imbecile, while the horrors around him go down. From the first shot, in which he’s sprawled on a sofa beside his mom and staring at the TV, J reveals nothing; only when the cops show up do we realize she’s dead from an overdose. J phones his estranged grandmother, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), who arrives with her heels and bleached hair and enfolds him in her ample bosom. Gradually, we come to understand why J’s mom, however drug-addled, acted wisely to keep her son and her family far apart.
They’re sociopaths, a crime family—Mom, three sons, and a close mate. And the local police are just as wild. Apart from a stuporous hero, what makes Animal Kingdom more nihilistic than its genre counterparts is the almost complete lack of justice, of cause and effect, of anything but naked displays of dominance. The most likable character is offed early—for no reason—by cops; the criminals’ revenge for that death is on a pair of innocent patrol officers. The one decent detective (Guy Pearce) says the right things but is utterly impotent. Tribal allegiances are all—and even they can be suspect.
Early on, writer-director David Michôd serves up Trainspotting-like tricks and narration that is beguiling, if rarely apropos. But the actors are something. Weaver is seductively maternal when it suits her, but with a chillingly Darwinian view of her progeny. We hear about the eldest and most psychotic son, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), before we see him, and his first appearance is deceiving: He’s small, with a weak chin. Soon, of course, we realize that it’s the weak-looking ones who’ll do anything to compensate. Toward the end of the film there’s a heavily sexualized murder that I found too upsetting and disgusting for the movie to bear. Good as Animal Kingdom is, it’s not deep or illuminating enough to carry the weight of that particular death. It is good enough to bear the weight of the memorable last line: “It’s a crazy fucking world.”