ANIMAL KINGDOM Review


"Animal Kingdom" is a slow boil. Its story, based simply around a small family of criminals and drug dealers initiating their younger nephew into the business and the ins and outs of what it takes to stay sane and keep up with in that type of business. I can hardly begin to describe this story without thinking about all the small details and nuances each character brings with them and why they are motivated to do the things that lead to one of the more moving crime dramas I've seen in recent years.

As J, newcomer James Frecheville, hardly says a word the entire script, yet remains the focus of this entire film. Opening with the death of his mother, he is forced to live with her estranged mother and brothers. He is forced into a world that he knows nothing of and that we never given the insight as to what drives him to want to be a part of this family. With such a subdued performance in the lead, the flamboyant one is not going to be too far behind. This comes courtesy of Jacki Weaver playing the matriarch like grandmother to J, the one who is truly in control. Weaver is like a trained hypnotist, reeling us in, making us marvel at her skill at manipulating these boys, these men to do her bidding. She is a smart momma, and not until a final moment between her and officer Leckie, played here by the always reliable Guy Pearce, do we question whether things won't go as she plans them to. It is a creepy, yet fully realized character that deserves more acclaim than it has received thus far.

The real accomplishment of this film though is being able to take such a genre picture and the plot that comes along with it and making it as intense as if we had never seen a cop drama in our lives. These feel more like finely constructed scenes than a large coherent film at times, but the small instances of building tension, waiting to see if the gun goes off or if it doesn't. Or the ones where the blast takes you completely by surprise. The ones where an act of violence is committed for no apparent reason, only to trigger the turning point in another character. It is simple, yet intricate. It is small yet complex. Most importantly though it is an interesting film with commanding performances, a true gem that I will tell people about long after writing this.