Animal Kingdom – Review
February 23, 2011 1 Comment
Directed by David Michôd. Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville, Luke Ford.
This is a really tough watch… And yet, it isn’t the violence itself, because actually there’s very little of it, but the constant sense of eerie dread and tension that permeates the whole film and makes it almost unbearable to sit through.
Some of the most violent acts happen all of a sudden (hence even more shocking), towards the beginning of the film and take you completely by surprise and then, in the words of writer-director Michôd, “you’re just left with the aftermath”. Supposedly that’s how violence is in real life.
It’s a clever device that throws the audience right off-balance from the start. From that moment onwards, we know we can expect anything at any moment. So the idea that something could happen at any point is more distressing than the violence itself.
That is the most successful aspect of”Animal Kingdom”, a film that otherwise threads through a well know pattern and feels like many other crime films.
But forget the jokey Tarantino of Pulp Fiction, or the epic almost-romantic Coppola of the Godfather, this is a serious crime film, and it feels real!
“Animal Kingdom” is a drama at every turn and twist and it depicts the lives of a family of criminals in Melbourne. Obviously it all benefits from having a series of (very convincing) performances from actors who don’t carry the burden of recognition.
Right from the start we are catapulted in the middle of it and it’s up to us to work out who’s who. I did confess I was a bit lost in the beginning and took me a while to actually be able to recognize all the characters. Also I didn’t think the main character (James Frecheville) was particularly interesting to watch: his face is pretty much black for most of the film, which I suppose is the point of the film (his mother dies right at the beginning and he doesn’t even flinch) and yet this detachment he didn’t make him particularly sympathetic and in the end I thought that was an error in judgement.
As the film unfolds, slowly we begin to see how terrifying these people (animals) really are, even the most innocent looking ones: the figure of the mother, Smurf, played by Jacki Weaver is one of the scariest creation I’ve seen in a long time. On the surface she’s a small, gentle, smiley mother who gives full-mouth kisses to his sons, but behind all that, hides the pure evil (witness a wonderful scene in which she asks for her own grandson to be killed).
Her Oscar Nomination for supporting actress is truly deserved.
Behind the (artificial) sense of reality, Michôd uses every trick in the book to make it feel cinematic at the same time : the slow-motion as people walk towards camera, the long elegant tracking shots (reminiscent of Scorsese’s early gangster’s films) and finally the music itself
As if the subject matter wasn’t tough enough, Sam Petty’s ominous score rumbles along through the subwoofer (that “.1” from the 5.1 surround sound) in a series of prolonged low monotones, which you almost feel in the stomach and make those tense sequences feel even more dangerous.
The only oddity, which I didn’t think was needed at all, and adds nothing to the film, is the use of voice over at the beginning and at the end (especially coming from a character as blank as J). In fact, generally speaking, the script is the most un-remarkable thing about the film.
When it all finally ended, I was gagging for some fresh air and I couldn’t wait to go outside in the freezing cold London of these days and breath with relief
This is by no means a criticism to the film, in fact quite the opposite: it’s the proof that the film worked for me. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to call it entertaining or want to watch it again, but I’ll certainly look out for what Michôd will do next (hopefully with a more original story).