The film centres on 17-year-old Joshua (James Frecheville) as he is thrown into the deep end when forced to move in with his grandmother, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Jacki Weaver), and her three sons, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford).
Joshua, or ‘J’ as he’s referred to, is inevitably implicated into the Cody family’s nasty, nihilistic crime syndicate. His initiation itself is one of the most powerful scenes of the film, perfectly shot and illustrated, deepening the grip the film so expertly implants over the viewers.
Michôd invites the audience into the Cody household, opening their eyes to a world of gritty, nasty and terrifyingly nerve-wracking violence. It’s a very powerful depiction, one that’s not been so masterfully achieved since Goodfellas or Scarface.
Natural, low-key lighting and obtrusive, yet restrained camera angles help to build, and maintain, the overall intensity and realistic nature of the film, never letting it slip into the artificial feel of most modern-day Hollywood crime films.
The striking use of visuals implemented by a superb Michôd terrifically complements the explosive plot, remarkable performances by a host of up-and-coming or underrated talent.
Each actor, Joel Edgerton and Guy Pearce in particular, provides a taut, emotive performance, effectively playing off one another to establish a truly harrowing portrayal of underbelly life, one that deserves to be recognised for many years to come.
The real triumph, however, comes in the form of Weaver’s character ‘Smurf’, the matriarch the notorious Melbourne crime family. Her performance, which earned her a Academy Award nomination, not only re-affirms her incredibly zealous talent, but also sets the film ablaze, making you question ‘Smurf’s’ sanity at every significant turn.
Animal Kingdom is a compelling, astounding and beautifully executed crime drama, supported by vigorous performances by the entire ensemble. Expect Michôd’s career to explode.