David Michod’s Animal Kingdom is not an easy film to watch. To start with, it takes around half an hour to get used to the thick Aussie accent and, more importantly, to the savage rules that reign over the Animal Kingdom in which the characters (and the film itself) live. However, if you manage to watch until the end you will enjoy one of the most satisfying film experiences coming from the land down under in years.
The film, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of a family of professional criminals engaged in a bloody vendetta with the local police. As the showdown unfolds, the viewer is literally dumbfounded at the way the story advances through multiple brutal but subtle turns of the plot (there’s no place for the word ‘twist’ in this film).
The cast is superb in each and every role. James Frecheville gives a wonderfully subdued performance as the young newcomer striving to survive in a world he doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) belong to. Ben Mendelsohn is chillingly impressive as the psychotic son, while Guy Pierce, who could have been a big star but has chosen to be a great actor instead, plays the cop with a convincing moral ambiguity.
In the centre of this film, however, is Jacki Weaver’s unforgettable turn as the incestuous, white trash female version of Vito Corleone. The character (and the performance) grows as the story unfolds and at the end of this tale of revenge and hopelessness it is Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody who is etched in the memory of the viewer. As I was watching Weaver’s creation of that character, able to order to whack somebody and to caress him with a tender ‘of course, darling’ five minutes later without batting an eyelid, I was wondering where I had seen that actress before.
The supposed familiarity might have come from the fact that Weaver’s face in Animal Kingdom is a perfect combination of the Ellen Burstyn of Requiem for a Dream and the Diane Ladd of Wild at Heart. I obviously IMDBed Weaver as soon as the film was over only to discover that when those two great American actresses were making Alice doesn’t live here anymore 35 years ago, she was playing in one of my all-time favourite films, Picnic at Hanging Rock. Just another reason to revisit Peter Weir’s 1975 masterpiece.
If justice exists, Jacki Weaver should be in any shortlist of Best Supporting Actress of the year.
Here’s a trailer of the film.