Animal Kingdom, David Michod’s sixth directoral feature, is one of those films that promises a lot. Initial reception has been incredibly positive and, despite a relatively alternative storyline, Mihod has managed to bag some well-established acting talent to headline his feature. Raising your hopes and expectations about this film however is not a good strategy if you wish to glean some kind of enjoyment from it as, ultimately, it doesn’t really deliver.
Our protagonist J, or Josh if you consult his birth certificate, is a young boy seemingly without empathy or understanding for anybody around him. I’m not giving anything away by telling you that he watches a gameshow on tv whilst his mother sits beside him on the sofa dying of a drug overdose. She is disposed of, rather callously, early on so that J can be left in the equally egotistic hands of his Grandma: Janine. She’s apparently raised a family populated entirely by people for whom life is very cheap, unless a direct relative happens to get offed by the police – that’s different of course, and the film charts J’s attempts at surviving life in their criminal nest.
Animal Kingdom does succeed in intermittently engaging the audience. Guy Pearce puts in a praise-worthy performance as a justice-obsessed cop and Jacki Weaver, who plays the aforementioned Grandma Janine, is equally powerful as the manipulative matriarch of the family. There are also some nice little shocks in there and a smattering of moments where you are genuinely dreading what may or may not happen next. The overall result of this film, however, is a higher body count than Rambo and it is simultaenously less-entertaining and less convincing to boot. Given Stalone’s performance in Rambo this is defintely something of a problem.
In addition to the tendency to bump someone off whenver there’s a lull in the narrative, Mochid also has a tendency to over-rely on slow-motion. An over-reliance on any stylistic technique is seldom a good thing and in the case of this film all it does is drag out already overly long sequences. It is, presumably, supposed to help us digest the action but all it does is highlight how little is actually going on at that moment. Michod, who both wrote and directed this piece, seems to have chosen the oddest moments to lapse into slow-motion – most notably when people are being tackled to the ground – it feels a little bit like something borrowed from a bad Michael Bay film which is not exactly a winning model.
The key difficulty with this film is that it is all but impossible to care about our protagonist who, due to the nature of his character, is unable to emote. He is given one scene in which he is finally allowed to do so as enough terrible things have by then happened to draw a reaction out of young J and in those twenty seconds he is thoroughly engrossing. Of course, one might argue, twenty seconds is hardly long enough to judge real acting talent. Even with the fifteen minute voice over at the beginning of this picture the audience never really gets to know its protagonist and is therefore alienated throughout.
An interesting stab at the crime/drama genre but more development is definitely required to convince us of the reality of the characters and the situation.
DIRECTOR: DAVID MICHOD
CAST: JACKI WEAVER, GUY PEARCE, BEN MENDELSOHN, SULLIVAN STAPLETON, JAMES FRECHEVILLE
RUNTIME: 112 MINUTES