Animal Kingdom - DVD Review

'an emotional trawl through the decaying belly of Australian crime culture'

Animal Kingdom is one of those films which takes great delight in punching you in your stomach as often as it can get away with. A crime drama where the vast majority of the criminals aren't fluffy Hollywood stereotypes but vicious, morally corrupt individuals with a violent disregard for everyone and everything, it sets its stall out well in an opening scene which could be a mother who has fallen asleep whilst watching television, but which turns out to be something else entirely. From this point forwards, all bets are off.

Some of the events which step outside of normal crime film constructs aren't completely unforeseeable (however much of a parody that might initially sound), depending on just how many gang-led dramas you've misspent your youth watching. Director David Michôd is clever in the way he plays with audience expectations and experiences but he is even cleverer in the way that he keeps the tension within Animal Kingdom at very high levels throughout. There is such threat here that even mundane conversations between two individuals will have your unswerving attention and whether your physical response is to turn away, clutch the edge of your seat or squeeze your own arms a little tighter, be rest assured that this is a film that is likely to produce physical responses. It's a thrilling experience, if eminently uncomfortable.

The Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver is an obvious highlight, choosing to play an atypical character in a non-atypical way. Elsewhere, Joel Edgerton - who is on the edge of Hollywood superstardom and will surely get there at some point in 2011 or 2012, judging by his upcoming release slate - is strong and is used in a typically strong way by the director, whilst Ben Mendelsohn's haunting, unequivocally evil performance as Pope is at least as good as Weaver's, if not better. Newcomer James Frecheville is obviously directed to play his role as straightly as possible but this doesn't change the fact that at times he seems too unemotional and wooden for a leading character and a little more range would have been welcome.

Michôd's script calls to mind the tagline of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic in which, 'No One Gets Away Clean'. The same is true here. Audiences are taken on an emotional trawl through the decaying belly of Australian crime culture, which takes time to show its victims as human and both its aggressors and the defenders of the people as full of blame for what happens to them. It is a deeply critical film; of humanity, of the authorities, of criminals and of those who observe it all happen. It is also one of the grimmest crime dramas available, a brave film which indulges in no sidesteps or feelgood moments of fancy in the quest to tell its honest and forthright story.

Animal Kingdom is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from Monday 11th July 2011.

Look further...

'a terrifyingly intense reminder of the depths some will sink to in order to fulfill their inherent need for power' - Cinema Funk


  1. This was in my Top 10 for 2010. It was just so gritty and intense, even though it was quite slow. The performances in the film were really good too, especially Ben Mendelsohn and Sullivan Stapleton, who were both really scary and evil in their roles. Jacki Weaver definitely had my vote at the Oscars this year, though!

  2. I can absolutely see why. I've seen it in a few people's preliminary '11 lists (it didn't make it till the UK till February) too. I think Mendelsohn's performance is what sealed it for me. It's definitely his character that I think of when I think back to the film.

  3. I saw this here in NZ's International Film Festival. I'm glad you like this!
    It is far superior as you say to the Hollywood stereotype crims. Pope is just down right scary because he is so quietly menacing and unpredictable. I think this is such a great crim film because the characters are so real and unlionised. They are shown for the moral lacking scum bags they are. And as for their mother! god has there ever been a screen mum like her?!

  4. I really think Pope is a great character and, as you say, one of the reasons for that is that he really has no chance of redemption - he's a bad man, who does bad things and you're never led to suspect otherwise. On the Mother - I certainly can't think of one. It's another really unique element that lends to the malevolence of the film.

  5. One of the best of last year, without a doubt. Blood chilling performances, especially Mendelsohn. Good to see this one getting some love, read a couple of pretty average reviews of it.

  6. With hindsight this hasn't grown on me and I really thought it would. I don't know whether its just too grim for its own good? It won't make my Top 10 of '11 and at the start of the year I thought it had a real chance.