When his mother overdoses and dies, 17-year-old Joshua 'J' Cody (Frecheville) is welcomed into the clan of his grandmother, Janine (Weaver), and her three sons - Pope (Mendelsohn), Darren (Luke Ford) and Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) - all of whom are armed robbers (although the twitchy Craig dabbles in a little drug dealing on the side). When friend Baz (Joel Edgerton) is shot and killed by the police, the elder Pope plans the family's revenge by killing two policemen. Knowing the Cody family are behind the murders, the police, headed up by the kind detective Leckie (Pearce), single out J for questioning, seeing that he is the youngest and weakest and most likely to flip...
A cold and detached film with little or no humanity, the opening scene sets the film's stall out in terms of tone: J sits quietly beside his unconscious mother as he waits for the medics to come. As they try to revive her, he is more concerned with watching the game show on TV than his mother's well being. Next, he's on the phone to his estranged grandmother and tells her in a matter-of-fact manner "Mum's gone and OD'd and has died." True to its title, this is a film that places humans in the same league as animals - it's a survival of the fittest and if you're not quick enough, or smart enough, then you deserve to die and no tears will be spilled. Here, the Cody family, loosely based on the Pettingill crime family, have a flippant attitude to everything, even when one of their own is murdered.
Pearce is the movie's good guy but he's too sidelined to impact the story - the only character the audience can align with is the reserved and nearly mute J. But there's nothing to this kid: although he narrates the film, he's emotionally distant, observing the family's antics as if he's studying them from a distant planet. He avoids the crime his family are involved in, but he never casts judgement on them; he has a girlfriend in Nicole (Laura Wheelwright) but that relationship too is surface only. Mendelsohn's banality of evil is chilling but it's Jackie Weaver who outshines an already flawless cast. With a smile and a twinkle in her eye, Weaver's Janine is a malicious matriarch whose hold over her family is revealed as Animal Kingdom slowly moves towards its shocking climax.
Story by Gavin Burke | 09:00 | Thursday 14th July 2011 | DVD review
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