I keep a list of films that have piqued my attention at some point. Moments when a preview, a trailer, a blog post or a review inspire you to offer 2 hours of your life to someone else’s vision. Quite often I look at this list and ask “when the hell did this list get so long?” so I make a dedicated effort to knock a handful of them off on a cosy Sunday afternoon. Today I put Animal Kingdom at the top of that billing.
Ordinarily my afternoon would be an enjoyable affair affording me the satisfaction of entering a world created by another. When the credits roll I can silently nod my head in approval (or shake in disapproval) and get on with my day. However, every so often a film comes along that has an affect on me. With Animal Kingdom I found myself sitting in silence considering the story, it’s characters and why I felt such a strange connection to people who don’t even remotely resemble anyone in my life.
It took me some time, but I realised I felt an empathetic kin with J, the young man at the center of this story thrown into a new life with his hardened criminal cousins after his mother overdosed. His withdrawn personality and separation from the most emotional events of his young life is something many of us can relate our younger selves to. While many of us never experienced tragedy to quite the same extreme, there’s a recognition of the uncertainty, fear and desperation we see from J. His character is rooted far deeper in reality than most fictional characters we see in film and on television. Often we find ourselves encouraging murderous tendencies from the lead, sharing in a desire to see someone’s life come to an end. Sharing with J at this particular turning point in his life was more grounded than anything I’ve seen in a long time. The distant feeling in loosing family he was only just getting to know, the consequences of simple association, where you choose to draw the line and the effect on a young man’s accelerated introduction to the grown world.
Animal Kingdom pulls together such a vast pool of talent. Frecheville’s understated yet convincing portrayal of J was outstanding. This is no mean feat for a young, green actor when surrounded by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce and the amazing Jacki Weaver whose performance as matriarch, Janine, stole the show.
Often Australian films are described as “gritty”, Animal Kingdom being no exception, but it’s a term I’ve never considered too closely. Michôd doesn’t overcook the production of his film. He doesn’t employ the obvious high-end filters, post-production lighting adjustments and over zealous score. He keeps things simple and allows his first-rate cast to weave a classic style of movie magic – quality, gritty acting.
One could be forgiven for thinking of the Underbelly series when reading the synopsis for Animal Kingdom. A crime drama about a vicious underworld Melbourne family. It does sound awfully familiar and as films tend to go, people love to cash-in on the success of others. But Animal Kingdom is far from a cash-in. It’s real life inspiration isn’t brutally dismembered by the scripting or editing process, with the characters being people you would truly expect to bump into at the shops.
Animal Kingdom is a fine display of a truly Australian film on a relatively tiny budget. We have such immense talent in this country and knowing the likes of Pearce and Edgerton, who could be earning pay checks with many more zeros overseas, choose to be involved in home-grown projects they can be proud of is simply heartwarming.