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Home » Culture and Criticism

Animal Kingdom

Submitted by on February 5, 2011 – 12:01 PM17 Comments

Death Race 35, Sarah 21; 2 of 24 categories completed

This is a brilliant piece of storytelling, right here. For all the rending of garments I do about the ODR forcing me to watch shite like The Wolfman, a movie like Animal Kingdom is why I push ahead — I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise, and it’s just fantastic. It pulls you in from the opening scene, and it doesn’t let go for one moment.

I have one small complaint, which is about J’s voice-over. A kid like that, mostly marginalized, isn’t the kind of character who would have a VO, but once you accustom yourself to it, and to the insights (or, really, reminders) it offers, you come to like it a lot. (James Frecheville, a relative newcomer, hits all the right notes in a tough Ennis Del Mar-type role.) He has a line about how kids just are where they are, and go where they’re taken, that you shouldn’t buy coming from that character, but you haven’t thought about things that way and Frecheville puts it over, so you don’t mind it. And then the VO just goes away after awhile.

Everything else is fantastic, though. There isn’t a slow moment in the plot, and Pope’s inexorableness (in a great banality-of-evil turn from Ben Mendelsohn) slowly turns up the dread. It’s not entirely clear what’s happening at certain points, but the end resolves them somewhat, and the last shots of the film have whole novels in them. Guy Pearce, sporting a mustache larger than my first apartment, crams several paragraphs into a one-minute scene in a hotel room. The score is lovely, too.

It’s only up for one statue, Best Supporting Actress, and Jacki Weaver is daaaaaamn. Like the rest of the film, the performance is a slow gathering from mildly inappropriate to straight-up ice in the veins. She won’t win, but I hope the nomination gets the movie seen a bit more. Even if you’re not Death Racing, please see it.




  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I really want to see this one. It was here for about five minutes a few months ago, so it’ll probably have to be Netflix, but I’ve heard nothing but good things.

  • lsn says:

    It’s interesting seeing a completely outside view of the movie – a lot of the reviewing here was referring back to the events the film is loosely based around, and I think for a lot of people it’s difficult to untangle memories and responses to those events and those people from the actual film and the characters. It was certainly well reviewed, but didn’t stay in cinemas here for long either.

  • Barbara says:

    Apologies if this has been addressed elsewhere but how are you seeing all these movies? Obviously some of them are already out on DVD/Netflix but as for the rest…?
    Are there any movies you’re not sure you’ll be able to get hold of because they’ve already left the theatres for example?

  • Erin W says:

    Oh my lord, is that Guy Pearce up there? He looks like a middle school science teacher. Or a child molester. Or some combination of the two.

    I’m also Oscar racing. This one is next in my queue after I get through The Kids Are All Right.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @lsn, some U.S. reviewers seemed confused about that as well. Several said that the film took place in the eighties; I thought that the people on which he based the film were active in the ’80s, but the characters had cell phones, so, not so much with that. It was probably the foregrounding of that Air Supply song that threw them off, but then Deal Or No Deal is playing in the first scene.

    @Barbara: Some in the theater, some via Netflix or Netflix streaming, some via screener. Several are on On Demand but annoyingly it’s all ones I’d seen ages ago. A few of the Best Foreign nominees won’t come out here ’til March, so if anyone has access to screeners of those, please, get in touch.

    @Erin: He makes it work. Trust me.

  • […] bring this up because I watched Animal Kingdom yesterday, the same day Sarah reviewed it. She liked it more than I did, but I was kind of annoyed and half-watching it for the beginning. […]

  • attica says:

    I am a proud Guy Pearce Completist, so I’m pretty psyched to have something to put on my list. (Wouldn’t have waited so long to catch The Hurt Locker had I known about his cameo.)

    Sars, how do you compare his turn here to his Duke of Windsor in the King’s Speech?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Haven’t seen King’s Speech yet, but when I heard the casting, I liked it, just on a physical-similarity basis.

  • “It was probably the foregrounding of that Air Supply song that threw them off”

    Well, to be fair, Australian films used to be known for using kitsch 70’s and 80’s songs, like STRICTLY BALLROOM, MURIEL’S WEDDING, HOTEL DE LOVE, and LOVE SERENADE (although, admittedly, this is the first hard-boiled film from that continent that has done so).

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    ABBA is responsible for my favorite movie speech of all time, from Muriel’s Wedding:

    “Before I met you, my life was nothing. I just sat in my room and listened to ABBA songs. But since I’ve met you, my life’s as good as an ABBA song. It’s as good as Dancing Queen.”

    God, I love you, Australia.

  • Allison says:

    I haven’t met an Australian film I didn’t love and this one followed suit. I agree with pretty much everything you said, Sars. This is one of those films that never allows you to get comfortable. Between Grandma kissing the boys on the lips to Pope’s uncle-rapist eyes, I was wigged out from the start to credits. Guy Pearce (and his ginormous facial hair) was a lovely surprise, and I really like Joel Edgerton. He’s a beard man and he knows it, and I appreciate that.

    Any Australians out there know how the movie went over with Australian police officers? They don’t come off so well in this one.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    I’m so so excited about seeing this movie. It came and went in the theaters too quickly for me to get my act together and go.

  • lsn says:

    @Allison: The Victoria Police response has, to my knowledge, been pretty muted. I doubt they’re happy about it – I did read one article where the movie was described as “glamorising criminals”, which is true (but then again, so did Underbelly. A lot.) I think they’re mostly not commenting and trying not to provoke any further discussion. The targeted shootings in 1980s by the now-disbanded Armed Robbery Squad are fairly well documented here, as is what happened on both sides as it escalated. This also isn’t the first time it’s been addressed in film – the early 90s TV series Phoenix and Janus fictionalised a lot of those events.

    The Walsh St Police shootings are (unsurprisingly) still a very touchy point with the police however – there’s a current Police Union push to re-open the inquest into them, and to attempt to force Wendy Pierce to testify. Not sure how that’s going.

  • Sarz says:

    I worked on Animal Kingdom in 2009 and while it is loosely based on the Walsh St shootings (A pivotal scene featuring two young policemen is production designed as a startling homage), the actual film is a work of fiction, set in present day. The characters are based on an amalgam of shady Melbourne criminals from the ’80s and ’90s, in particular the Pierce Family, the matriarch of which was a stone cold bitch.

    Hard to believe James Frecheville was only 17 when we shot it, and it was first screen role. And Jacki Weaver? Loveliest lady ever, NOTHING like Smurf.

    Ben Mendelsohn in totally bonkers, however. :)

  • Sarz says:

    *is* bonkers. Stupid typo!

  • Thacky says:

    So glad everyone likes this – saw this in a Melbourne cinema with no idea what it was about (fluffy animals cavorting on the plains of Africa?) and was blown away by how gripping it was.

    Was so pleased for Jackie when she got the nomination – I hope she has a ball! I wonder how many other little gems are out there showcasing actors doing great work that hardly anyone sees.

    Of course in this case, it did get noticed.

    I could not believe how they kept up the sense of dread and impending awfulness so consistently without it becoming deadening and forcing me to withdraw from the story – always just enough hope that the seemingly-inevitable tragedy wouldn’t happen.

  • […] Sars said pretty much the same thing in the intro to her review; unlike her, I didn’t love the story overall. The voiceover thing got to me a bit, too, plus I wasn’t entirely clear on the specifics of the crimes and respective punishments, which was distracting. But wow, Jacki Weaver is mind-blowing. She is the ultimate manipulative matron, giving new and seriously creepy meaning to the phrase “killing them with kindness.” That last scene between her character and Guy Pierce’s Leckie has been one of my most memorable movie moments in the Death Race thus far. […]

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