The opening scene of ‘Animal Kingdom‘ is awesome. A young man just on the eve of maturity and an older woman watch a brainless TV competition show. She seems to have fallen asleep on the sofa. Next paramedics from the emergency service enter. We understand the two are mother and son, and the mother fainted after injecting heroin. The paramedics try to resuscitate her. She actually was dead. The son continues to watch TV without any apparent emotion during all the scene, the eyes stuck to the empty content of the TV show.



The scene is symbolic for the empty social and cultural world where the characters of the film move. We may be in the Melbourne of the first years of the 2000s but the story of the family could have taken place in any other time and place, and there are no cultural or moral drives in what the family of gangsters in the center of the story do, there is only the instinct that brings the family together in some kind of spirit of heard of predators, there is greed and there is revenge. In fact the film resembles and is visibly inspired by the Hollywood crime stories and we could easily imagine DeNiro or Pacino taking in the 70s many of the roles. The structure of the crime family is the same as in the traditional Sicilian mafia, with just one twist – the godfather figure is being taken here by the mother of the three bank robbers, but then we already had seen a similar role in Katheen Turner’s Serial Mom which I bet the excellent Jacki Weaver had seen at least once. The rebellious sibyl is the mother who died in the opening scene and it is the fate of the son who is at stake in this film – will he go straight or will he end by being part of the family implacable destiny?


(video source SonyPicturesClassics)


The opening scene also is one of the many god moments in a film that never lets you guess it is director’s David Michôd first feature film. To be true however to the end I need to say that the pace is sometimes slow and there are also some moments that let the viewers confused, and not only because of the accent the folks down under speak their variant of English which of course does not help. Overall it is however an entertaining story with a few surprises and turns that keep the attention of viewers, with an atmosphere of authenticity, and no moral judgments – cops do not show up in a much better light than criminals, with a group of rogue policemen taking the law in their hands and playing according to the gang rules the war with crime. The ending is one of the possible endings such movies may have and did not let me unsatisfied. Acting is good and as I know too little about Australian cinema I had the advantage of all actor faces being new to me. Besides Weaver that I already mentioned, I liked James Frecheville who does a fine job in his first lead role and Ben Mendelsohn (an experienced actor according to his IMDB record). Animal Kingdom is not a masterpiece, but is a smartly written and well acted film and I am not surprised that it caught the attention of the jury at the Sundance festival and that is enjoys a fair international success.