I don’t mean to stereotype, but perhaps my current thinking is a byproduct of having every Australian movie I’ve seen in recent months be crime related. Even the upcoming Red Hill, which is Australian, deals with crime oriented themes. So when I say that Australia’s filmmakers seem to have a soft spot for crime-drama films, you’ll have to forgive my possible ignorance.

Animal Kingdom is director David Michod’s first feature length film and he does a hell of a job in giving himself a name from this one movie alone. With a cast of actors that most of us have never heard of, except for Guy Pearce, having emerged back into the movie scene from doing whatever it is Guy Pearce does, we are welcome to mesmerizing performances left and right. Perhaps this is another case in which lesser known actors make the movie’s world so realistic, for each and every actor is downright wonderful.

Operatic is nature, Animal Kingdom is such a startling piece of crime fiction, that it’s more than easy to believe such events are unfolding in front of your eyes. The movie is constantly guided by a looming sense of tragedy and foreboding, as a family of criminals constantly looks over their shoulders in the anxious anticipation of being taken down by the local police force. These characters lead a highly sketchy and dangerous lifestyle where only the strong survive.

Most every character is guilty of some crime and this movie’s world is such where there are only a few good individuals, but they in turn are usually overcome by the surrounding (metaphorical) darkness. Actress Jackie Weaver plays the part of the mother Janine Cody. The only reason I mention her is because she is perhaps one of the most diabolical forces in the history of movies, a mother who will do anything, including having members of her own family killed to preserve herself and those she deems worth saving. Her cunning and pure evil nature, often masked by her charming old lady act, is quite terrifying. Joshua Cody (James Frencheville), the young man caught in the middle of the law enforcement and his malicious family, finds himself at odds as he continually gets tossed around, having to become enormously clever and resourceful if he wants to get out of certain predicaments alive.

The character of Joshua Cody is an intriguing one and almost frustrating for audiences at certain moments. A young man who, for the most part, never shows off any emotion. Keeping to himself and merely following orders, he does as told, tries to keep his head down, while finding out a way to survive. Only towards the end of the film is Cody allowed an emotional outburst, and even that I felt was short-lived. Regardless, he’s a stunning character and acts for the audience as a bridge between the world of crime and the world of law.

I’ve always been one to enjoy dramatic films; that’s just how I am. Animal Kingdom is a movie taut with suspense and emotion-charged moments. I’d go so far to say that Michod’s latest work is beautiful, almost Shakespearean in nature, with its superbly shot and yet equally unsettling instances. The movie’s conclusion, without giving too much away, comes as a shock, with a spontaneous, violent, and  almost random finish; to tell whether or not anything has been resolved by the movie’s end is extremely difficult.

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