Review: ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Review: ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010)

Despite some moments of brilliance, ANIMAL KINGDOM is ambitious but mediocre crime drama. 

When ANIMAL KINGDOM first debuted in 2010, I didn't get a chance to watch it. But I still remembered the near-universal praises that made the movie such a critical darling at the first place (and for the record, it received a whopping 97% fresh from Rotten Tomatoes!). Not only that, the movie also bagged plenty of awards during that year including 8 AFI (Australian Film Institute) wins and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver. Fast-forward to 2014, I finally made an effort to watch the movie. But for all the overwhelming praises and the so-called "Australian's answer to GOODFELLAS" (which was written on the DVD cover), I was shocked to find out that ANIMAL KINGDOM is nothing more than an overrated crime drama failed to live up its massive hype.

When the mother of a 17-year-old Joshua "J" Cody (James Frecheville) died of a heroin overdose, he called his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) and subsequently moves in to live with her. While Janine may look like a typical happy grandmother, she is actually the head of a crime family at which her younger sons Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford), and fatherly business partner Baz (Joel Edgerton) helping each other to run the dirty business. Then along came Janine's recently imprisoned eldest son, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) who returns to the family and from there, everything starts to go wrong. One of their own gets brutally gunned down in a broad daylight, and the Cody brothers retaliate by killing a couple of cops in cold blood. J, who doesn't want to get involved with the mess, eventually finds himself whether he will stick with his family or choose to cooperate with the officer-in-charge Detective Senior Sergeant Leckie (Guy Pearce) and bring the brothers to justice.
Some of the casts here are noteworthy. First and foremost is Jacki Weaver's highly-acclaimed performance. Her layered role is especially fantastic, as the movie slowly reveals her from a smiling and affectionate grandmother to a cold-blooded person who doesn't hesitate to make sure one of his troubled sons is disposed. Equally great as well is Ben Mendelsohn's creepy performance as the sociopathic Pope, and same goes to Joel Edgerton with his engaging performance as the level-headed Baz. Sullivan Stapleton, who plays the volatile drug dealer Craig, is also excellent and Guy Pearce brings his otherwise typical honest-cop role as Leckie with enough subtlety.

The hauntingly beautiful opening scene where J patiently waits for the EMTs to arrive and tries to revive her but to no avail, while watching Deal or No Deal on television; and the brief but shocking scene where one of the characters get shot inside the car at the parking space.

I understand that a lot of praises had gone to first-time director David Michod (who previously co-wrote in Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred drama, HESHER) and I admit he has his few fine moments (like the one in the opening scene). But his overall direction is hardly compelling for the most part of the movie. At nearly two hours long, the movie moves at a snail-paced rhythm which tends to get frustratingly boring from time to time. His penchant for slow motion is so overused to the point of annoyance, while his metaphorical choice of direction rather than going the usual in-your-face route of a typical violent crime drama feels sadly pretentious.

Michod's script, which actually has sparks of potential, is mostly sluggish and isn't engaging enough to hook you in. Another huge disappointment is newcomer James Frecheville, who plays the lead character in the movie. His expressionless acting is especially weak, while the way he mumbles most of his lines crippled his role further.


Suffice to say, ANIMAL KINGDOM tries hard to be an ambitious crime drama but the execution is far from an impressive result.

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