It’s difficult to think of more than a couple of really outstanding Australian films. There’s The Proposition of course. Then there’s Spaz Luhrman’s films. In fact, on this list of prominent Australian films of the 2000s, I’ve seen exactly eight. Two of those are Luhrman, one was Wolf Creek. So a film as well recieved as Animal Kingdom (ninety five percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, and won the Grand Jury Prize and Sundance earlier this year) demands to be seen as it could fairly be crowned as the best representative film out of that country in years.
The seriousness of the film is marked from the beginning. The opening seen shows what we assume is a son, watching deal or no deal, next to his unconscious mother. A few seconds later, EMTs show up, and the son, Darren, placidly explains that she took too much heroine, and then continues to watch the game show while they pronounce his mother dead. This forces him to call his estranged grandmother, as he’s under eighteen and doesn’t quite know how to deal with the death of a relative. His grandmother, Janine, welcomes into her crime family with open arms.
Darren is plunged into a world of the Cody family: drugs, drug dealing, larceny, police surveillance, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. He’s both seduced by the arrogance of his new family, and disturbed by it.
The film is directed by David Michôd, and his self-assurance is remarkable. There is nary a misstep here. and the film ends up being so effective, you’ll feel like you need to shower after leaving the theatre. This isn’t to say Michôd, who also wrote the script, isn’t restrainted. More things were hinted at than were actually shown on screen. Michôd was actually quite restrained and felt satisfied (as should you) that most of the darker secrets of the Cody family are only alluded to (incest, sexual abuse, violence). And Michôd rounded up a remarkably able, and talented cast. Particularly the actress who played Janine, Jacki Weaver, who is, perhaps, the most disturbing matriarch I’ve ever seen in a film.
The film starts rapping up just as the voice-over narration by Darren promised in the beginning: all criminals come apart. An investigation led by a detective played by Guy Pearce makes Darren the star witness in a case against his uncles over the slaying of two young police officers. No matter what you think, you won’t see how this whole story will wrap up, but I promise you’ll love every dirty, grimy second.