Animal Kingdom (review)

This electrifying Australian crime drama sears all hint of the sentimental out of a harrowing tale of one Melbourne family’s felonious downfall, and — daringly — strips all sense of cinematic romance out of a genre that often idealizes the corrupt and the brutal. After his mother’s death, disturbingly detached teen J (James Frecheville) goes to live with her family, from whom she was long estranged, and finds himself immersed in a fetid atmosphere of near-incestuous affection — matriarch Janine (Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver) is far too intimate with her grown sons — and violent crime: His cousin Andrew (a chilling Ben Mendelsohn: Knowing) is professionally into armed robbery, teamed with his best friend Barry (Joel Edgerton: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole) and younger brothers (Luke Ford [The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor] and Sullivan Stapleton [December Boys]), and has no hesitation in roping J into the family business. Australian filmmaker David Michôd — making his feature directorial debut from his own script — finds moments of quiet horror in these lives gone horrible astray, beginning with, as the film opens, J’s preference for watching the game show blaring from the TV over wasting concern for his OD’d mother as paramedics attempt to revive her, and amping up toward… Well, no spoilers. Rife with tragic ironies and packed with characters so chillingly, casually evil that they’ll linger with you even if you don’t want them to, and fantastic performances (including, also, Guy Pearce [The Road] as a weary cop), this subtly spellbinding film treads a new path through a well-worn realm.

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