279 Cents: Animal Kingdom Review and Shout Out

279 Cents is where we share our thoughts, views and reviews about this and that, and give you the good public our 279 Cents worth about it (currently worth about £1.75 at the current exchange rate if that helps)

This is the first review we’ve done here on the Studio 279 News Blog. That isn’t strictly true: there was an abortive attempt to review Oliver Stone’s W last month as part of the Stoney retrospective in advance of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Unfortunately, the title of the review said it all: “Oliver Stone’s ‘W’: Less ‘W’, More ‘Y?'” and as there wasn’t anything as witty or insightful as that to be said we rather left it there. Today, though, we throw off the shackles of keeping schtum on films we didn’t make, to give a shout out for, and review of, a brilliant Australian crime film by David Michôd. It’s called Animal Kingdom, and it’s very much King of the Jungle. Ha, and if you will, ha.

The film focusses on J Cody (James Frecheville), a seventeen year old boy who goes to live with his gran (Jacki Weaver) and uncles Baz (Joel Edgerton), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford). His uncles, however, are part of Melbourne’s criminal underworld. They are armed bank robbers, involved in an ongoing stand off with Larry Law: cars are parked outside, they are regularly followed and are watched round the clock by the itchy trigger fingers of the soon to be disbanded Armed Robbery Squad, hoping to catch a glimpse of the eldest brother, the head of the operation known only as Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). That’s all the plot I’m going to give you. You want more? Tough! If it doesn’t sound like much from that (admittedly poor) summary, then believe me when I say it is one of the best films I have seen all year.

Michôd does a really good job of building up the tension throughout, and telling the story in such a way that you genuinely don’t know what will happen next. It is a fresh spin on the well worn crime trail, and is much more effective in what it sets out to achieve than Ben Affleck’s superficially similar The Town, which, though a good enough heist tale, had rather too many cliches and was somewhat of a let down considering its great cast. No such issues here. All of the cast are brilliant, from Edgerton as the most normal seeming of the bunch, to Ben Mendelsohn who is genuinely unnerving as Pope, and James Frecheville in one of his first film roles does a great job as the quiet lead character. And of course, the marvellous Guy Pearce as a Melbourne cop, who should just be in more movies. Plus, nice tache!

Before the film started there was an introduction by Michôd where he explained that the story came from reading true crime books charting the decline of both Melbourne’s Armed Robbery Squad and the crime families they chased in the 1980s. He said these families took on an almost grotesque soap operatic quality with the way they carried on, and that is personified by the turn of Jacki Weaver as the Cody family matriach. A woman who cares deeply for her kids, throughout the course of the film she isn’t afraid to busy herself in the criminal empire. She does the whole thing with the kind of smile and warm charm of a character you might expect to see on Neighbours or Home and Away. I may have missed some episodes, but don’t remember Madge ever plotting anyone’s murder.

These are the positives, so what are the films flaws? Well, there aren’t any. Actually, not true: I was lucky enough to attend the screening, which was thrown at The Electric cinema and put on by Grolsch and the Little White Lies film magazine. Being a film screening put on by Grolsch, attendees were entitled to a free bottle of Holland’s finest. They were not entitled however, to visit the toilet so often. About five to ten people got up at various stages of the action to answer the call of nature, rather ruining the crime film atmos. The guy on the end of our row went three times: once before the film and twice during. Note to organisers: free beer at film not a good idea!

Otherwise it was a great night and it’s a film well worth seeing. Unfortunately, Animal Kingdom isn’t due out for another three months, so you’ll have to bide your time. But when it does come out, you’ll really be mad not to watch it. Last night I was in two minds as to whether it was worth the bother. Cold, wet, trains: what’s the point? But I reasoned it would probably be one of those films you’d have to trudge out of the house to see, but have to run back and tell everyone how great it was later. And, as usual, I was 100% right. NOTE: I’m not usually 100% right. Often 90, sometimes 85, rarely 100.

Animal Kingdom is due for release 25th February 2011