Animal Kingdom review by Melissa Orcine - Cinema Paradiso
Seventeen-year-old Joshua ‘J’ Cody’ (James Frecheville) has just lost his mother to a heroin overdose and now an orphan, he reconnects with his grandmother Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Jackie Weaver) and his uncles – and immediately in the film ‘Animal Kingdom’, you know it’s not a great idea.
See, the Cody family isn’t exactly as warm as apple pie – it’s more a crack den with criminals in it. The last thing an impressionable teenager needs is to be mentored by walking bad influences. As J is being taught the Cody family business – robbing banks, killing cops, evading the law – a detective named Leckie (Guy Pearce) wants him to help the police out in taking his own family down. Where does J’s loyalty lie? Is there one to begin with? And what life is waiting for him if he chooses either side? Clearly, J is with the bad guys, but should you turn your back on your only family just because they are?
Dilemmas, moral and practical, are evident in the riveting tale of the Cody family in the Australian production ‘Animal Kingdom’. It is the first feature-length film of writer-director David Michod, whose depiction of a crime family dynamic is reminiscent of ‘Goodfellas’ and TV’s ‘The Sopranos’.
Headed by its smarmy matriarch Jackie Weaver, her Smurf is a lioness of a momma, who passionately loves his boys that she’d do just about anything to protect them. His ‘boys’: Joel Edgerton, Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Ford, and the frightening sociopath Ben Mendelsohn present grim examples of J’s future, should he decide to join and be like them. Guy Pearce is a reliably competent actor and he is the catalyst that will make J re-evaluate how he wants to live. James Frecheville’s J gives a quiet performance, blank and unfeeling, that sometimes you want to shake him to realize the mess he is actually in. But he is us, the audience, who traipses the Cody hellish world.