Film Review: Animal Kingdom

The message that violence begets violence is rarely illustrated more clearly than in a film such as Animal Kingdom. David Michôd’s drama is compelling, and brimming with great performances.

After Joshua ‘J’ Cody’s mother dies of a drug overdose, he goes to live with his grandmother and her family. J becomes trapped between his criminal family and the detective who is after them; whichever path he chooses is dangerous…

Animal Kingdom is rather slow moving, but is compelling for audiences willing to give it a try. The narrative unfolds gradually; at the beginning it is unclear exactly what kind of direction the film will take. In exploring the family dynamics and J’s discomfort, Animal Kingdom is engrossing.

Animal Kingdom focuses on the character of J. The majority of scenes feature the protagonist, and viewers certainly identify with the teenager above all other characters. It is through his eyes that the audience sees his extended family, and the dynamics of their relationship. J’s difficulty in knowing how to react to situations with them and their dealings is something that most will be able to empathise with.

The dialogue in Animal Kingdom appears very natural. The characters interact in a very believable manner. The picture painted by Michôd is convincing in its depiction of crime and policing in Australian suburbs. Although the violence can be shocking, it is never really unrealistic.

Performances are great all round. James Frecheville is well cast as J. He acutely captures the awkwardness of the character. Ben Mendelsohn is great as Pope, conveying the character’s creepy exterior. Guy Pearce is solid as police detective Leckie, although his high billing is solely down to star name rather than the size of his role. Stealing the show, however, is Jacki Weaver as family matriarch Janine Cody. Weaver is excellent in the role, which is more complex than it originally seems. As the film progresses, it becomes clear just what a pivotal role Janine plays in her family’s affairs. Weaver is fantastic in Animal Kingdom, and thoroughly deserves the praise she is receiving.

Animal Kingdom is tragic in a number of ways, not least the fate of young J. It offers a negative but not improbable view that those who grow up with troubled backgrounds are doomed to repeat what they see. The entire Cody family is tragic, but it is of their own making. Animal Kingdom is an affecting film, one that is certainly worth the watch.