Animal Kingdom is David Michod's feature directing debut, and what a debut! Certainly one of the best Australian films I have ever seen along with, say, Lantana, The Proposition and the Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. I guess the difficulty now for Michod is following it up with something of comparable quality.
Animal Kingdom charts the experiences of 17-year old Joshua Cody, as, following the death of his mother from a drugs overdose, he finds himself being 'adopted' by his near family, who (unfortunately for him) happen to be part of the criminal underworld, led by his maternal grandmother Janine Cody and her three sons. Michod directs with surprising assurance (given this is his debut) and has produced a slow-burning, brooding thriller whose main themes are misguided family loyalty mixed with near psychotic bursts of behaviour.
The cast is outstanding with three particular standouts for me. Ben Mendelsohn as Andrew 'Pope' Cody, the psycohotic 'leader' of the family gang is disturbingly convincing in what is a remarkably underplayed, brooding role. Jacki Weaver as the grandmother Janine Code is absolutely superb as the 'kindly' matriarch who has the best interests of her family at heart, but just happens to be completely deranged at the same time - she was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for this role. Finally, James Frecheville, in only his second film, puts in a very promising performance as the innocent grandson Joshua, who is totally convincing as he attempts to make very difficult moral judgements.
Great stuff, and essential viewing.