Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime film that, I’m told, is loosely based on real events. It tells the story of ‘J’ (James Frecheville), a teenager, who, when his mother dies of a heroin overdose, is forced to move in with his criminally inclined relatives. These include coke-snorting Uncle Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), creepy Uncle Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), and the family matriarch, Mama Smurf (Jacki Weaver). J tries to keep himself aloof from their criminal activities. When, however, a family friend, Baz (Joel Edgerton), is killed by a cop, Pope demands that the family take revenge, and J finds himself drawn into the family’s violence. He eventually tells everything to the police, but his family persuade a crooked cop to try to kill him. The film ends with a twisted version of the return of the prodigal son.

Like Winter’s Bone, Animal Kingdom is about the difficult choices an individual must make to survive in a corrupt world. J finds that he can’t rely on the police any more than he can rely on his family. His only hope is to play the two sides off each other.

Although the acting is all very good, Jacki Weaver steals the film as Mama Smurf. One can sense the cold-bloodedness that underlies her relentless cheeriness. Very creepy.

Highly recommended

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