Depressing Crime Story
Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver,
James Frecheville, Joel
Edgerton, Sullivan Stapleton,
Luke Ford, Guy Pearce, Laura
Wheelwright, and Dan Wyllie
Runtime: 112 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: David Michôd
Executive Producer: Vincent Sheehan and Bec Smith
Producer: Liz Watts
Writer: David Michôd
Address Comments To:Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Marcia Bloom
Sony Pictures Classics (Sony Pictures Entertainment)
550 Madison Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Phone: (212) 833-8833; Fax: (212) 833-8844
Web Page: www.sonyclassics.com
ANIMAL KINGDOM opens with Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville) sitting on his couch at home next to his dead mother, who has overdosed on heroine. With no one to turn to for help, J reaches out to his grandmother, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), whom he has been estranged from since he was a little boy. Without hesitation, Smurf brings him home to live with her and her three sons, where J quickly finds himself privy to the inner workings of a criminal lifestyle.
For years, the Cody brothers have earned money as armed robbers, working together with their friend, Baz (Joel Edgerton), and splitting their rewards equally. With increased scrutiny from the police and their oldest brother, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), in hiding, the banditry business is proving far less lucrative and safe than it once was. Knowing they can’t keep surviving as they have, the once united team begins to splinter. Their speed-addicted, middle brother, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), has begun making a fortune selling drugs, while friend Baz has doubled his money by investing in the stock market. Knowing that several renegade cops want Pope dead and that the rest of them are in danger because of it, Baz meets Pope at the local grocery store – a public venue they believe is a safe and unlikely place for the police to be watching them – to plead with Pope to get out of the armed robbery trade. Baz makes an offer to help Pope start a new life, which Pope seems inclined to accept and promises to consider. After parting ways in the parking lot, however, Baz is shot by the police point blank and in cold blood. Pope witnesses the murder of his best friend and immediately decides to avenge his friend’s death.
Together with Craig, the youngest brother, Darren (Luke Ford), and their nephew J, Pope devises a plan to get revenge. After instructing J to hotwire and steal a car, the three Cody brothers park the car in the middle of a residential street knowing that the police will be called to assess the situation. When two young policemen arrive at the scene, Pope, Craig and Darren jump out of hiding, shoot and kill them both and then run away – Pope and Craig to Smurf’s house and Darren to his apartment where J is waiting for him.
Although J isn’t told details of what happened, he finds Darren in the bathroom scrubbing blood off of his shoes. After seeing news reports about the murders on television, J understands that his uncles are responsible.
Eventually, a series of misunderstandings causes the uncles to distrust J. It also leads to the murder of J’s girlfriend. J finally agrees to testify against his uncles, but at the last minute, changes his mind. This results in another murder and a depressing ending.
ANIMAL KINGDOM is grossly inappropriate for children of any age, and adults opposed to foul language or violence will be severely offended by this movie. Because the characters operate without any moral compass, there are no redemptive elements present in the story to counteract the blatant violence and obscenities that permeate the entire picture. While ANIMAL KINGDOM lacks any message of morality, it would be inaccurate to depict life under such circumstances without the lies, betrayal, corruption, violence, and revenge that are central to the story. Even so, ANIMAL KINGDOM takes it to the extreme with the visualization of these elements that could certainly be toned down and yet still tell the same story. The “in your face” visual approach and the foul language used could easily be curtailed in order to be less offensive.
From an artistic perspective, however, Writer/Director David Michôd’s goal was to tell a realistic story about life in the underworld of crime and with a brilliant cast he did a fascinating job of portraying it onscreen. There are purposely no redemptive elements in this movie because these characters have never been exposed to God and don’t know what it means to be kind or to trust or to accept or to selflessly love. They are taught to protect their own and to survive using whatever method they know how and to do so at any cost. The only parental figure these boys have ever looked to for guidance is Smurf, who has built her own self-worth around her sons and whose strange intimacy with and dependency on them has created a warped sense of love and respect. Additionally, she supports their immoral behavior so they grow up believing their actions are justified.
ANIMAL KINGDOM won the Grand Jury Prize World Cinema at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and may deserve some accolades from an artistic standpoint. In terms of acceptability and morality, however, it fails to deliver any kind of positive message and leaves viewers feeling empty and depressed.
ANIMAL KINGDOM may deserve some accolades regarding its realistic depiction and acting out of this crime drama. Except for one police detective, however, the characters operate without any moral compass. So, the movie has no redemptive elements in its story to counteract the blatant violence and obscenities that permeate the entire picture. It fails to deliver any kind of positive message, leaving media-wise and other viewers feeling empty, depressed and unsatisfied.