Bit of cheating here. I saw Animal Kingdom this month as part of my bi-weekly senior citizen screening film discussion, but instead of writing up a fresh piece for the blog, I am simply going to copy what I had to say when I was writing up the Leeds International Film Festival for Film&Festivals magazine. Lazy I know, but you’ll get over it.
The evening’s screening was one of the most anticipated on my list, the Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom (David Michôd). A contributing factor to the anticipation was the fact that I had been hearing impressive murmurs from those who saw the press screening during London Film Festival, but were a little perplexed that it was not playing there. I don’t know how Leeds managed to secure its UK premiere ahead of London but credit is certainly due for that achievement.
I'd start by saying that I wouldn’t like to simply call this a gangster film. In that, I mean that it is not a simplistic genre film; it did not follow the blindly ambitious rise and fall of the protagonist as is the genre archetype. Animal Kingdom is simply a genuine and harrowing character driven story about a boy, Josh (James Frecheville) in the middle of a situation that he has done nothing to contribute towards. Once in this situation, all he can do is act how he sees in order to survive. I also wouldn’t say the assertion that this is an Australian answer to Scorsese is true; it seems a comparison justifiably based on the homosocial nature of gang based masculinity, yet the central character of Josh makes all the difference, as he bears little resemblance to the types of characters that regularly feature as Scorsese’s protagonists. I could more easily draw parallels with Jacques Audiard's A Prophet; neither aesthetically nor in terms of the plot, but in a sort of overall sentiment. In a similar way, it shows this new generation in an old setting (the other gangsters are very reminiscent of archetypal gangster roles seen in something like Once Upon a Time in America), which propagates that the old ways are crumbling but there are no revolutions or sweeping changes, only survival. In this way, both these films work as sort of intentional anti-gangster genre narratives.
The film was very bleak and menacing in tone and kept me on edge throughout, as the whole foundation seemed fragile and uncertain at any point. Topping it off were the excellent performances of the young James Frecheville and the older Ben Mandelsohn that were both so masterfully underplayed but in completely different ways. Add to this the even better performance of Jacki Weaver [for which she was then nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar].