Friday, September 3, 2010

Animal Kingdom

How do you watch out for snakes when everyone’s a snake? This is the predicament of Animal Kingdom’s J Cody (played with mouth-breather excellence by Aussie newcomer James Frenchville). J’s mother was the only daughter in what has to be the nastiest family in Australia. This group of brother and the delightfully, totally evil matriarch Janine rob banks, murder, sell drugs and don’t hesitate for a second before killing the police. J’s mother, when J was very young, decided to save him from all this and moved away with him. However, flash forward a few years, and J’s mom has suddenly died. Now, as a minor, the State wants to put him with his next of kin. Unfortunately for J, that next of kin is known as the Cody Gang. Man, they are a rough bunch too. Suddenly he’s thrown into a world of lies, violence and, yet, a family connection he’s never known.
Because of the Cody Gang’s terrible treatment of their community and the police, they essentially live in constant war with the Major Crimes and Bank Robbery Units of the police. When our story picks up the Bank Robbery Unit is being abolished and before those cops get reassigned they’ve decided to take out the Cody’s their own way, since they’ve never been able to make anything stick so far. There’s nothing but aggression and violence from both side and a constant cat-and-mouse form of living. Caught in the middle, J must pick a side, and, from where he stands, both sides look like a terrible option.
This movie is fantastic. It’s a slice of life sort of flick but the slice is of one truly wretched life. It’s like getting a backstage pass to one of the nastiest horror shows in town. While all the actors are great and give truly amazing, natural performances, the greatest of them all by far is Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of the eldest brother, known as Pope. His character is easily one of my favorite villain performances of all time. He is truly frightening. He portrays a man in a constant state of deadly flux, a human who seems capable of conveying the sweetest compassion and the most bone-chilling coldness within the same shallow breath. Pope goes from best mate to ruthless killer in the blink of an eye and Mendelsohn portrays him in the most unique and believable way how. It’s worth the price of admission. While the story’s not perfect and I’m not sure what the moral was, the movie as a whole is really really great.

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