Rudie Reviews David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom [Sundance 2010]

Welcome to the jungle!  In this jungle, it is survival of the fittest.  Animal Kingdom is the newest film from Australian writer/director, David Michôd and it’s a look at the seldom seen mean streets of Melbourne.

The Cody family is a family of drug dealers and armed robbers.  Their lives are turned upside down when a nephew named “J” moves in.  The movie opens with J’s mother dying from a heroin overdose.  At 18 years-old, he has nowhere to go but to live with his grandmother.  While living with the Cody’s, J’s uncles attempt to teach him the family business.  He struggles to please his family and do the right thing.  Things get out of hand when the police start to investigate the family.

This film is gritty, raw and dark.  It seamlessly shifts from intense family drama into crime genre where no one is safe.  It would be unfair to call it “The Godfather” of Australian Cinema because it is more than that.  It warrants the praise but should be looked upon as its own.  The film is slowly paced at first.  Going in and out of focus thematically but regains its promise in act 2 when Guy Pearce is introduced to the story.

The performances in this film are superb and excellent.  This is probably the best performance of Guy Pearce I’ve seen since LA Confidential.  He’s smart and charming.  When his character is making decisions, you can actually see the gears in motion.

Never dull and always interesting, Animal Kingdom is powerful.  I am reminded of other crime films like Gomorrah with the tone of this film.  I am curious to see how this film will play come award season this year.  Out of all the films I’ve seen at Sundance this was the only one where I felt it deserved the phrase “Award Winning” next to the title.  The collapse of a family struggling to survive in this urban jungle is a remarkable achievement of Australian Cinema.

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