JAMES FRECHEVILLE JACKI WEAVER GUY PEARCE JOEL EDGERTON LUKE FORD BEN MENDELSOHN
Over the summer a small little film from Melbourne Australia debuted and even had American critics putting their thumbs up and shouting "Oscar" in the direction of Jacki Weaver. Months later Animal Kingdom is the most nominated movie in history at the Australian Film Awards and Weaver has even earned a supporting actress Golden Globe nomination along with tons of American critic’s awards. The rough and tough film revolves around a teenage boy who is defaulted to live with his extended criminal family as they begin to fall apart one by one. It’s a gritty look into Melbourne’s drug lord family and a far cry from what Americans assume all Australian films are like.
Joshua (Frecheville) calls his grandmother, Janine Cody (Weaver), when his heroin-addicted mother overdoses and dies. He has been kept away for 17 years from his grandmother and uncles because they are deep into the drug distribution in Melbourne. Janine comforts Joshua, calling him her beautiful boy and, admitting she is sad her daughter is dead but glad she finally gets to spend time with her grandson. The Cody family worries about the police outside their houses and bugged phones; while Joshua doesn’t want any part of the business, his association makes him a prime target for Detective Leckie (Pearce) to finally stop this corrupting family.
The entire time I was watching this film my focus was on Weaver; her performance isn’t a jump out and grab you role like Melissa Leo in The Fighter; it’s more like a slow roasting of cleverly contained emotions and fake kindness. She hugs and kisses her “boys”, looking away when they curse, stopping the paranoid fighting, but there is an eerie calmness about this grandmother who still dresses like she is in her late 20’s. By the end of the film we see exactly what is behind that loving persona and un-trusting smile. Weaver plays the part like an evil witch with manners and the audience fears her the whole time.
Young Frecheville and Pearce are also good. Animal Kingdom is a title which refers to dominance out in the wild and is fitting for this film because it is about who is in control in a city with drug dealers, corrupt cops and intervening young men. In some ways Animal Kingdom is like an Australian slice of The Departed. This film moves slowly, but by the end it has a strong statement; it’s an interesting look at corruption and the criminal life. By no means is this a film that is original or unique outside of its genre, but it’s simply well done and focused. Weaver will face tough competition getting the Oscar nomination since she was ignored by the Screen Actors Guild.
Final Thought – Weaver’s unsettling, slow burn performance is worth seeing.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Editor: Michael B. Woody