Monday, August 30, 2010

Animal Kingdom

"Animal Kingdom" by David Michôd has two exceptional performances that elevate and make the movie, one by Jacki Weaver and one by Ben Mendelsohn, both heavily deserving of Oscar nominations and your attention. They are the grandmother and uncle of the main character, J (James Frecheville, well-cast) respectively, and once he comes to live with them after his mother succumbs to a heroin overdose, in the words of Weaver's character, he "gets to see a lot more of them." He also sees more of his other uncles, mild-mannered Darren (Luke Ford) and drug-dealing Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), as well as family friend Barry (Joel Edgeton), all of whom are trying to dodge the law, repeatedly reminding each other to "pull your head in." The most wanted of all seems to be Uncle Pope (Mendelsohn), who's hiding out in random locales and whose first appearance in the film is exciting. We also learn that Uncle Pope is the most merciless, in how he berates his brothers, how he repeatedly offers assistance to J, and to the depths that he plunges to save the family and to stay out of jail.

The beginning part of "Animal Kingdom" verges in certain points on being a sitcom, having an unsure tone, and plodding and meandering. But as the movie progresses, it gets better (and, like I said about "The Kids Are All Right," in light of what comes to pass, the beginning may work better on a second viewing). I can't tell you exactly how it gets better, though, or I'd be spoiling the film too much. I will tell you that Guy Pearce turns in a good, persuasive performance as Detective Leckie, who engages in a tug-of-war with the Codys to get J over to the right side of the law.

On the technical side, there is Antony Partos' score, which is good; at times excellent, at times a bit of a retread. There is also a heavy use of slow-mo which also is sometimes well-done and at other points like things I've seen before. And, as my friend and other critics (such as Laura Kern) I believe said, there is nice, floating cinematography by Adam Arkapaw.

The film has some very good sequences (as well as surprises) in both halves that make me wish that the whole beginning part held up. These sequences, as well as Mendelsohn and more so Weaver's work, are why "Animal Kingdom" works to the point that it does. It definitely is superior to previous "Blue-Tongue" effort "The Square," which, in my opinion, had an unsatisfactory followthrough. "Animal Kingdom" has exactly the reverse problem, which is better. B

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