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A Not So Super Hero

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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.”

P atricia Clarkson is usually so “on” that it’s a surprise to see her play a melancholy, passive woman—and play her with such airy, elegiac grace. In Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time, she’s the wife of a U.N. official; she arrives in Egypt to find him stuck in a Gaza refugee camp under mysterious circumstances. Ogled and accosted by Egyptian men, she drifts closer to her husband’s colleague (forlorn Alexander Siddig). They don’t talk much, but they fall into an easy, intimate rhythm. Will they … ? Won’t they … ? Like most good travel movies, the physical movement is in turn with the movement of the soul. Think In the Mood for Love with hookahs instead of chopsticks.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Universal Pictures. PG-13.

Animal Kingdom
Sony Pictures Classics. R.

Cairo Time
IFC Films. PG.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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