Animal Kingdom

One Australian Family’s Nature Is To Nurture Crime

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Jacki Weaver In Animal Kingdom Rated: R. Grade: B+

Joshua Cody (James Frech-eville) has enjoyed a bit of shelter due to his mother’s estrangement from her criminal-minded family. But when she dies, his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) arrives to bring him back into the fold. This family, such as it is, bears little resemblance to the familiar and established orders we have come to expect from mob-related enterprises.

First and foremost, the Cody clan is a matriarchal kingdom. Eldest son Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) may be the hotheaded triggerman and notorious face, but clearly, it is Janine who pulls all of the strings, although that analogy is too cultured to truly define how things work within the ecosystem that writer-director David Michod sets his sights on here. Janine is the queen bee/ant at the top of the order, the fierce mother protecting her brood, but equally ready and willing to sacrifice a weaker offspring to guarantee the clan’s overall survival.

The godfathers we are so used to seeing at the top of the food chains are ruled not by such instinctual urges, but rank sentimentality. There is always a sense of guilt or grief that eats away at them during the decision-making process, which transforms them as tragic figures in these epic grand schemes. Not Janine. She is too much of a natural survivor and her dominion is too narrow in focus. The Cody family is simply a hungry, dangerous pack of animals unable or unwilling to look beyond their habitat.

Joshua attracts the protective eye of an outsider, though:  Leckie (Guy Pearce), a detective hot on the trail of these predators. And Leckie seeks to offer Joshua sanctuary and a degree of domestication beyond the raw scraps that Janine, Pope and the others, including the weak-willed Darren Cody (Luke Ford) and the surprisingly more sensible Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), provide but as is always the case with such options, safety cannot be guaranteed, so Joshua must learn to live by the code of the wild, to become a surviving top dog in his own right, which will ultimately pit him against big bad grandmama Janine.

This Australian film has seemingly tapped into the country’s mythic degenerate roots as a prison outpost. Animal Kingdom follows closely on the heels of The Square, the Nash Edgerton noir, which is fitting due to Michod’s incestuous links to the Edgertons (he co-wrote and acted in Nash’s short Spider and corralled brother Joel to play a role in Kingdom). Michod and the Edgertons present these stories as Australian folk tales, the kinds of whispered family secrets that are supposed to put a bit of fear into the younger generation. And in Weaver, they may have found the perfect queen to rule the roost.

Animal Kingdom will be shown exclusively
at the Neon Movies

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