Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton, James Frecheville, Dan Wyllie, Anthony Hayes, Laura Wheelwright, Mirrah Foulkes, Justin Rosniak, Susan Prior, Clayton Jacobson, Anna Lise Phillips
Written by: David Michôd
Directed by: David Michôd
MPAA Rating: R for violence, drug content and pervasive language
Running Time: 113
Date: 01/22/2010

Animal Kingdom (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Choosing Sides

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

David Michôd's Animal Kingdom opens with a frightening sequence. Joshua Cody, known as "J" (James Frecheville) watches television, while his mother slumps on the couch near him. Soon the authorities come in to remove what we learn is her dead body. "J" blankly watches them as they go about their work, but every so often his attention is absently drawn back toward the TV.

This reveals everything we need to know about "J." He's emotionally blank, and he's probably seen every gangster film known to man; he knows enough to know when his standing as new recruit has suddenly been turned to stool pigeon. After his mother's death, he goes to live with his grandmother, the sweet, sinister Janine (Jacki Weaver, in a truly great performance).

She has three sons: armed robber Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) is the eldest, and currently in hiding. Middle one Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) is a drug dealer, and the youngest Cody, Darren (Luke Ford) goes along with his older brothers. Pope's partner Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton) is also a regular in the household.

After homicide detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce) brings "J" in for questioning, the rest of the family automatically assumes that "J" has talked, and so he must find a way to protect himself. Director Michôd avoids Tarantino/Guy Ritchie slickness here, and instead goes for a kind of gritty 1970s-era directness, without specifically wallowing in it, or showing off with it. The grittiness comes as an afterthought. He also avoids broad character developments, backstory or big introductions; it's all a blast, and a blur, but it makes sense. This is what the new wave of crime films should look like.

Edgerton seems to be the connecting factor here; he's in the middle of an Australian filmmaking squad that is currently turning out several interesting and edgy crime films, including The Square, which was also released here this year.

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