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ANIMAL KINGDOM (director/writer: DavidMichôd; cinematographer:Adam Arkapaw; editor: Luke Doolan; music:Antony Partos; cast: Ben Mendelsohn (Pope Cody), Joel Edgerton (Baz Brown), Guy Pearce (Detective Senior Sgt.Nathan Leckie), Luke Ford (DarrenCody), Jacki Weaver (Janine Smurf Cody), Sullivan Stapleton (Craig Cody), James Frecheville (Joshua Cody), Laura Wheelwright (Nicole), Anthony Hayes (Detective Norris), Justin Rosniak(Detective Randall Roache); Runtime: 112;

MPAA Rating: R; producer: Liz Watts; Sony Pictures Classics; 2010-Australia)

“A diverting conceptual fictional crime family pic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Australian writer and director DavidMichôd, in his debut effort, brings to the screen a diverting conceptual fictional crime family pic (based on a real bunch of Aussie criminals from the 1980s). It’s set inMelbourne. It features a wickedly manipulative benign looking mum, Janine (Jacki Weaver), whose grown sons–armed robber Pope Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), in-the-closet frightened thug DarrenCody (Luke Ford), anddrug dealer CraigCody(Sullivan Stapleton)–are criminals and she’s the brains behind them. When Janine’s quiet estranged 17-year-old grand-son, Joshua Cody (James Frecheville), finds his mom dead on the apartment sofa from an accidental heroine overdose, he contacts granny and she takes him in. Soon Josh unwittingly gets involved with their low-level criminal activities, even though he just wants a place to live in. When the boys’ smart gangster friend and accomplice Baz Brown (Joel Edgerton), a stable family man, who invests his money in stocks and wants out of the rackets, gets bumped off by the same renegade corrupt cops who were after the wanted armed robber in hiding Pope, the sleazy deviant Pope arranges for his weak-minded brothers to retaliate by knocking off, at random, two cops. That brings in heavy pressure from the police and the honest Detective Senior Sgt. Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce) to question the boys and Josh. This makes the Pope paranoid that either Josh or his girlfriend (Laura Wheelwright) will blab, and under his twisted leadership the gang makes bad decisions in dealing with the crises that make things unravel for the crime family. The film hinges on which direction will Josh be swayed to join in his struggle for survival–with the good cop Leskie or with the affectionate but ruthless matriarch.

It tells a familiar crime story of an innocent caught in a dangerous situation and how he learns to fend for himself from his limited street experience when fearing he can trust no one to help him out of his bad situation. Despite its well-worn narrative and that it has nothing new to say about criminals, troubled youths or cops, it nevertheless gets fine oddball performances from Weaver and Mendelsohn and has a fresh look and feel that keeps things exciting without being graphic or sentimental.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”