DVD review: Animal Kingdom

You see, eating spinach can make you stronger.
You see, eating spinach can make you stronger.

Animal Kingdom (15) 2 booms

It's difficult to associate the land down under with crime - ones not committed by dingoes that is. Crocodile Dundee is probably to blame for that, as are the neighbourly soaps that are exported from that part of the world. David Michôd's first feature however (which he also wrote) brings a darker side of an Australian suburban city to the screen.

After having his mother die of a drug overdose, 17 year-old Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) contacts his estranged grandmother (Jacki Weaver) and asks if he can stay with her. She's more than happy to bring him into the heart of her family, along with her three doting sons.

It doesn't take J long to realise that his uncles are involved in criminal activity, but as they're the only family he's got he doesn't mind. When one of the brothers gets murdered, by the police no less, the family decide to take revenge.

In doing so, they get J involved; they get him to steal the car they use for the crime. But as you would expect, the police don't take kindly to having their own murdered, and soon narrow in on the family. With the culprits in custody, Sgt Leckie (Guy Pearce) interviews J to find out what he knows. Even though he doesn't say much, he says enough for Leckie to know he's got his men.

Leckie is prepared to put J into the Witness Protection Programme, but J is wary of his offer of protection as well as his family's response. They may be his family, but he still finds himself in a position of knowing just which side to trust.

Although it's nice to see an Australian film tackle a crime drama, this one goes about it the wrong way. Its story comes away at the seams within Michôd's script. At one point he has one of the brothers, the eldest, in hiding from the police, with a police car outside the family home day and night in wait for him. In the second half of the film, the character is coming and going from the house as he pleases. Had the police suddenly changed their minds? Or perhaps they decided to just let him off? Who knows, certainly not the audience.

Another example is who is killing who exactly, and more importantly, why? There's far too much vagueness in who is killing who off; the brother's death is seemingly caused by a trigger happy copper, but we have no idea as to the reason behind the police deciding to start killing off criminals.

It doesn't help that the performances make Ozzie soap actors look like they're making HBO quality dramas. Some could be kind in saying that they're coming from a natural style of acting, but don't believe a word of it, as the overall quality on display is very poor indeed.

If you want to see a gritty Australian take on crime, then look no further than the critically-acclaimed series Underbelly, which was everything this film should have been and more. The only shocks you'll find watching this is how bad it really is.

2 booms

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