“You may think you’re one of the strong creatures, but you’re not, you’re one of the weak ones, but you survived because you’ve been protected by the strong. But they’re not strong anymore.” – Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce)
In the wild, the alpha male lion exerts his power in order to maintain and control the pride. True to Darwin’s theory, he must prove his strength, his cunning, and his dominance over his competitors to safeguard his own survival. Subsequently, the weaker males could either be protected by the strong alpha male, or left for dead. This bloody, but natural phenomenon within wild animals is the fascinating context that permeates the 2010 Australian film, Animal Kingdom. Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Dramatic, Animal Kingdom was not only the debut film of Australian writer/direct David Michod, but it is also one of the finest Australian films ever released.
Michod reportedly took nine years to fine-tune and perfect his screenplay and his diligent commitment to refining his work is clearly evident. As the frames slowly unfold, Michod unveils a chilling crime thriller that feels wholly original and completely devoid of the clichés of the genre.
The film opens with our teenage protagonist Jay (James Frecheville), sitting apathetically alongside his dead, heroin-overdosed mother. Unaware or simply unable to decipher his next move, he calls his grandmother, Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver) seeking advice and guidance. What he receives in return is an invite into one of Melbourne’s most notorious and ruthless crime families. Jay becomes exposed to, and unwillingly caught in the middle of, an underworld family and their violent fight for survival.
Thankfully, Michod’s exceptional writing and direction is given the life it deserves, by a cast that includes many of Australia’s finest actors. Newcomer Frecheville more than holds his own, as he is surrounded by a powerhouse team that includes Weaver (rightfully nominated for an Oscar for her performance), Joel Edgerton, Guy Pierce and Ben Mendelsohn (who completely steals the show).
This film should be the norm for the Australian Film Industry, not the exception. It is refreshing to see Australia and its people portrayed with such originality, believability and authenticity on screen. Unfortunately much of our cinema is plagued by stories and depictions of Australians that do nothing but negatively reinforce our ‘cultural cringe’.
It must be stated that this film is inspired loosely by the Walsh Street police shootings in Melbourne in 1988, and for that reason it may strike a nerve with anyone who was effected or horrified by those tragic events. The film is violent in a few instances, but never in an excessive or distasteful fashion.
I cannot speak more highly of this remarkable production. I consider this edgy, powerful and unnerving crime thriller to be not only one of the best of its genre, but without question, the absolute best Australian film I have ever seen. Highly Recommended.