You have a pretty good idea of where you are within the first minutes of Animal Kingdom.
The credits appear over images of an armed robbery and the story opens with a young man sitting next to an unconscious lady. Deal Or No Deal’s on the box and it looks like a normal day in a boring life. Normal, that is, until the paramedics turn up and set to work on the woman who had OD’d on heroine.
The young man is Joshua Cody. He calls his estranged grandmother to ask for help with the funeral arrangements and ends up moving in with her.
Joshua’s mother kept him away from his extended family in the hope that he wouldn’t get mixed up in their crime syndicate of robbery and drug pushing. Now that he’s in the arms of his Grandmother, Smurf, things don’t look good.
Smurf is a matriarchal lune. She has 4 crazy sons, 3 living at home and the craziest of them all, Pope, who’s in hiding. For the set-up, think Cody Jarrett in White Heat, here; it’s unlikely that the choice of name for the Animal Kingdom family is purely accidental.
The Cody family is in trouble because the lawless drug enforcers in police uniform are watching their every move in a bid to find Pope.
The film is stark. It’s often static and claustrophobic. The characters are brutally real and easy to get to know. There are no bells and whistles to distract from the story’s tension and uncomfortable quality. The performances are superb and the whole piece fits together like apple, sugar and pastry. Pope would have fitted well in to Blue Velvet and the main character Josh is played in a deadpan way that suggests the actor James Frecheville is going places (if he hasn’t already).
There’s no doubt that this is one to watch.
I’d also like to appeal to fans of Australian cinema to point me in the direction of more similar movies should there be many of them around.