REVIEW: Animal Kingdom

19 01 2011

A poor man’s version of Martin Scorsese’s crime classic “GoodFellas” with Australian accents, “Animal Kingdom” is a tale from down under that’s quite a few rungs down from the movies it so desperately wants to be.  Considering that it’s a debut film from writer/director David Michod, it’s somewhat more impressive, and I have a feeling that we can look for big things in the future.  But for now, we’re left with a movie that’s filled with one-dimensional characters played by actors without any gusto.

After the death of his mother, twenty-ish J (James Frecheville) is forced to take up residence with his estranged grandmother “Smurf” (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch of a crime family who’s grizzly enough to make Sarah Palin cower.  He unwittingly gets caught up in the exploits of his uncles, whose activities jeopardize his chances for a normal life with his girlfriend.  J is recognized by a cunning police officer (Guy Pearce, the movie’s only familiar face) as pliable, and he is faced with the choice between blood loyalty or the comforts available within the law.

The problem with “Animal Kingdom” is that it starts off really slow, and it takes a long time to get acquainted with the characters enough to care about them.  The movie starts getting really interesting around the hour mark, but by then, it feels like we’ve spent an abysmally long time in the Aussie underworld.  Michod throws plenty of action and twists at us in the second half, yet without dynamic characters, it ultimately goes in one ear and out the other.

As for Jacki Weaver, the reason I plopped this movie in my DVD player, I saw why she needed an Oscar campaign but not why she deserved a campaign.  She plays a one-note character that doesn’t play much of a part in the storyline until the conclusion.  Her big emotional scene falls pretty flat, unless, of course, you consider changing her facial expression ever so slightly compelling enough for an award.  Had I not heard all the buzz around Weaver, I would have forgotten about her as quickly as I’ll forget “Animal Kingdom.”  Neither have any teeth, something necessary to make a crime thriller bite.  B



6 responses

23 01 2011

Gotta disagree with you pretty intensely on this one, and not just because I’m an Australian (in fact in my review of Animal Kingdom, I make the point that there aren’t that many Aussie films I actually like).

I thought Animal Kingdom was filled with incredible menace. It’s true that it’s slow, but I think Michod does a GREAT job of building tension. It’s almost impossible to guess what these characters will do next.

Personally I think Ben Mendehlson as Pope is even more dynamic than Weaver, but overall I disagree about your assessment of her performance – I thought she was terrific

23 01 2011

After all the hype, I just found it pretty underwhelming, particularly Weaver. I just really haven’t gotten all the hype around a lot of the Best Supporting Actress contenders this year with the exception of Amy Adams (and Hailee Steinfeld if she gets incorrectly placed here). Leo, Carter, and to a lesser extent Kunis just don’t really strike me as Oscar-worthy.

And by the way, YOU WON THE JANUARY CONTEST! How do I get a DVD/iTunes file to Australia…the best option may be for me to send you a gift card or something in the amount of how much the movie costs.

24 01 2011
Tom Clift

Sending a DVD might be a bit pricey, and I don’t think US iTunes works the same way as the AUS ones (stupid region locking). Do you have Pay Pal?

24 01 2011

No, but I’ll see about setting it up and get back to you.

26 01 2011

I don’t know if the Goodfellas comparison is particularly valid; that film is about Ray Liotta wanting to be a gangster and his quest to become one, as compared to Frecheville’s go-along-with-it apathy and the protection against that lifestyle which his mother afforded him. They’re both crime movies, yeah, but they’re drastically different; if anything Animal Kingdom reminds me more of Devil’s Rejects despite both films existing in completely different wheelhouses.

Weaver, to me, can’t really be called one note. She’s affecting a number of different emotions and hitting several keys, going from sweet grandma to manipulative and cunning backstabber without so much as batting an eye. She’s quiet and finely nuanced, which works for the character, I think.

I don’t think the lack of dynamic characters is a huge problem for the film, even in context with the finale. Static characters exist, too, and can be just as integral to the success of a story as dynamic ones. Most of Animal Kingdom‘s characters are static, even Mendelsohn, but that’s not to say that they’re bad characters because we understand who they are regardless of how much change they undergo. I’d also pretty quickly identify Josh as dynamic; he could care less about life’s parade waltzing by him as he sleep-walks through his mother’s death and his transition into the care of a gang of bank robbers, until the third act kicks in and he answers the question posed by Guy Pearce and his glorious mustache.

26 01 2011

I just felt that, overall, it fell short of the gold standard for organized crime movies set by Scorsese and such. That bar is set insanely high, though, and I don’t expect many movies to come close to jumping over it.

I understand some of the points you raise, but I think it’s an “agree to disagree” issue: you see them as strengths and I see them as weaknesses.

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