‘Animal Kingdom’: Showing Them Who’s King

A young detached boy (James Frechville) loses his mother to a heroin overdose and shows no signs of mourning. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, he reaches out to his estranged grandmother. His mother kept Joshua away from her family for a reason; the grandmother (Jacki Weaver) and uncles all have their own dark sides. While the grandmother, which they call Smurf, enjoys being around her sons, she also encourages their bad behavior. The oldest son, nicknamed Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), along with his friend Baz (Joel Edgerton), rob banks. The youngest son, Darren (Luke Ford) is learning the ropes of bank robbing and the other brother, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), deals drugs.

The Australian armed robbery squad is after Pope which is why he’s been hiding out. Meanwhile detectives are following Baz around looking for Pope. After dealing drugs to a crooked police officer, Craig is told that the armed robbery squad is killing suspected robbers and not thinking twice about it. Because of this added heat to the armed robbery squad and their illegal doings, they’re department is probably going to be shut down soon and Pope can come out of hiding, he just needs to keep a low profile until then.

After a meeting between Pope and Baz, Baz is wrongfully shot and killed in the parking lot of a store by a group of police officers. Being that Pope and Baz were close friends, Pope thinks of a plan to avenge his death which gets his brothers and nephew involved. This begins a downward spiral into hired hit-men, murders, and complete distrust within the family.

This story takes on a slight parallel to the hit Australian show “Underbelly”, but takes on the perspective of only the criminals and not the police also. This adds to the movie’s appeal and makes the story that much more interesting. While the relationship between Joshua and his mother was obviously strained, you still feel sympathy for the world that he was thrown into soon after her passing. Each character was different with a diverse personality which made the movie feel authentic and real, hardly scripted.

With crooked police officers and criminals going head to head in this movie, it’s difficult to pick a good guy to cheer for. While Joshua gives us an easy out to want him to thrive above his uncles, even he has a few fumbling steps which makes him seem human and easy to empathize with, despite his previous detachment towards his drug addicted mother’s death. Without giving away the shocking ending, it may leave some audience members with a feeling of satisfaction, while others might feel heartbroken at the choices some of these characters were forced into making. While for others, it may leave you with those dual emotions that very few movies are able to achieve.

Weaver was haunting in her portrayal of Smurf that it might be wise to remind oneself that this is a piece of fiction. It is no wonder that she received an Oscar nomination for her performance. Setting up meetings with hit men, threatening police officers-this is hardly your Bingo-playing grandmother.