The Pope of Melbourne City
The storyline to "Animal Kingdom" would not be out of place in a Hollywood movie, a young lad sucked into the family crime business learns some tough lessons about loyalty and who they can trust. Except "Animal Kingdom" isn't a Hollywood movie, it's an Australian movie with just a couple of recognizable faces and a rougher, less glitzy look which rather than making it weaker actually makes it better. Because this isn't about stars or about a director delivering action it becomes about the young lad Josh and his story.
After his mum dies from an over dose 17 year old Josh (James Frecheville) has no one to turn to but his Gran Janine (Jacki Weaver) who because of a falling out between his mum and Gran he has barely seen. It is also because his uncles, Darren (Luke Ford), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Andy 'Pope' (Ben Mendelsohn) all are heavily involved in crime be it drug dealing or armed robbery and his mum had tried to shield him from the crime family where Gran Janine loyally loves her children a bit to closely. But now living with them Josh finds himself sucked in especially with the Melbourne Armed Robbery Squad desperate to get their hands on them as things escalate with murders and revenge killings.
For the first three quarters "Animal Kingdom" has a storyline which as already mentioned would not look out of place in a Hollywood movie. We watch as the slightly detached Josh gets drawn into the family way of life when he his given a gun to frighten some punks and before long he is assisting in a drug deal and stealing a car for 'Pope' the most dangerous of his uncles. And as we watch Josh get sucked in to this crime organization we watch as trouble brews as a family friend is killed by cops and the brothers kill two police men in revenge. It is all very typical in story as we also have Sgt Nathan Leckie who tries to work on Josh to turn against the family and as things get more and more out of hand as Pope tries to prevent the cops from winning Josh's loyalty is pushed to the max.
But here is the thing, this is all quite typical except then we get a series of twists which then makes "Animal Kingdom" much more than just an Australian take on a Hollywood style story. Without going in to much detail the twists involve two characters, Josh as he becomes to realise that he needs to look out for himself and then Gran Janine who would give The Krays mother a run for her money. It is a terrific ending to a movie which sucks you in right from the opening scene.
Now part of the reason why "Animal Kingdom" is so good is because it is less polished than a Hollywood movie. Everything feels more natural and this is highlighted in a scene where there is a car crash, you expect it to come and instead of coming at the most obvious point it comes just after having lulled you into thinking you are wrong. And then the actual crash itself, there are no huge explosions or cars flipping just one car hitting another and that makes it feel believable. It also makes you realise that writer and director David Mich├┤d had faith in his script to not to resort to tricks to try and make the movie more commercially pleasing.
What also helps is the lack of star names because it stops it ever becoming about the actors but focuses on the characters. Yes it features Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton who some will know but they have smaller parts and even then deliver interesting characters. Talking of interesting the detachment James Frecheville delivers as Josh is brilliant, it feels real but also strangely unsettling which is most certainly what Ben Mendelsohn gives us as the edgy and paranoid Pope. But for me the real star performance comes from Jacki Weaver as Janine, from the first minute we watch her kiss one of her sons a little too inappropriately to the twist in the final quarter she is mesmerising, unsettling and always dangerous.
What this all boils down to is that "Animal Kingdom" is a brilliant movie which takes what is a familiar idea but makes it into something edgier and more. From the less choreographed look to the lack of star power it all works and allows the story to suck you in which it does right from the word go.