Last night a movie changed my life.
I saw Animal Kingdom at the Sydney premiere (thanks to Time Out Sydney) and I can’t recommend it enough. Go see it! Now! Don’t even read my review…Read my review, then go.
From start to finish, there’s a dramatic tension that keeps you engaged, at times appalled, always on the edge of your seat; by the time the credits rolled, there were crescent moons in the palms of my hands.
It’s a rare thing to see a film with such a clear sense of itself, so at home in its milieu. Just as the central character J is entirely the product of his upbringing, this film is completely at ease in its setting. I had fears that an Australian crime thriller would make the overblown mistakes I’ve seen from others in the genre, but there’s a sparseness and honesty about the grinding tedium of crime and suburban life which gives the whole piece its sinewy strength.
When Pearce’s character (Leckie) talks to Josh about his belief that everything belongs somewhere, he could be speaking about the film as a whole; it’s impeccably positioned in its time and environment. Not a hair out of place. There isn’t a moment or a line of dialogue that’s excessive, and you have that pleasing sense of a film producer doing an exquisite job of fitting budget to project. David Michôd’s years as an editor on InsideFilm might have helped; complex elements are combined with ease. The script is pared down with a poetic understanding of the use of silence. The sets were finely observed, the actors delivered taut performances, and there was no sense of a budget blow-out on props, epic chase scenes or stars less interested in the script than the dollar. Frecheville’s performance as Josh is exceptional, understated but raw – begging, for me, comparisons with Brando’s early work portraying “the taciturn but stoic gloom of those pulverized by circumstances”.
What made it riveting was the sheer mundanity; the absolute lack of glamour; from Josh’s mindless viewing of Deal or no Deal in the opening scene to the limp-looking sausage sandwich in the last, assignations with corrupt cops in malls to the tracksuit-wearing lawyer; all were woven into the shabby tapestry of amoral lives lived without remorse. Jacki Weaver (Smurf) brings a matter of factness to evil deeds that’s genuinely chilling, accepting the casual savagery of her boys as her queenly tribute.
For me, the eye of the duck moment is J’s impassive face in his final encounter with Leckie. “I’ve figured out where you fit,” says Leckie, the realisation bringing despair instead of comfort.
In the animal kingdom, even the most enlightened leopard cannot change its spots.