Taking a page out of the Martin Scorsese playbook, David Mich˘d's Animal Kingdom plays out as a less visceral, more relaxed stab at creating the kind of iconic gangster tale that made the Hollywood rebel one of the most daring young auteur's of the 1970's. Perhaps more akin to the philosophical idea of a movie such as Mean Streets than to the actual reality of it, Animal Kingdom is nonetheless a daring film in its own right, with a subtle yet terrifying brutality that comes out more in words than in actions - but what chilling words these are.
Mich˘d, making his feature directorial debut, has weaved together his crime story with an intricately subtle sensibility, and instead of over-stylizing it and going all-out (like the aforementioned Scorsese does so well, and his imitators often do so poorly) the director hands his film over to his actors - and what a blow-out job his actors do for him. Granted, Mich˘d snags us with the opening salvo, as we watch a young man of 16 or 17 matter-of-factly waiting for the paramedics to come and attempt to revive his OD'd mother, all the while watching an off-screen TV game show just as matter-of-factly, but then he hands it over to his cast, and blow us away the do.
The story of a mid-level crime family in Australia, Animal Kingdom is about the Cody clan - three brothers, the aforementioned teen nephew, a close family friend and the matriarch mother/grandmother played with an award-grabbing aplomb by Jacki Weaver - and the police's attempt (whether legally or otherwise) to capture and/or kill as many Cody's as they can. An intertwining tale full of backstabbing and (very necessary) distrust of anyone and everyone, Mich˘d's film is tailor made for such a strong cast as he has assembled here - all led, figuratively and literally by the aforementioned Ms. Weaver.
It is Weaver's cold-hearted performance as the mother and grandmother from Hell, that sneaks up on you, whether you know its coming or not, and ends up being the most chilling part of this already chillingly superb cast that also includes Ben Mendelsohn as the eldest brother and calmest of all sociopaths and Sullivan Stapleton as the coke-addled paranoid antithesis middle brother. With a subtle, yet alarming brutality, Animal Kingdom may be unabashed proto-Scorsese, but it is definitely a cinematically fiery thing unto itself as well. [12/18/10]