Posted by: greercn | March 8, 2011

Animal Kingdom

This very odd film noir is an attempt to make a new form of crime drama. It succeeds when it keeps its focus on the outstanding actors who take the leads, notably newcomer James Frecheville and veteran Guy Pearce. Arguably, the weak link in the whole is the Medea-like monster granny, played with tons of ham acting – and just a little shadow of Bette Davis with lashings of Miss Piggy – by Oscar nominated Jackie Weaver.

It’s a strange tale indeed. David Michod wrote and directed the saga of young Josh Cody. His mother dies in the first scene and off he goes to live with granny Janine (Weaver). She presides over an Australian criminal family who owe a great deal to the “Godfather” movies, Greek mythology and modern cinema verite. They take a lot of drugs and swear a great deal.

Guy Pearce and his seriously large mustache want to convince Josh to turn stool pigeon. There’s a lot of stuff about power in the animal kingdom and what it is to be strong and what it is to be weak. Not all of these analogies work.

This is not the Melbourne of “Neighbours”, although there is some sly photography of the back of houses that reminds you of the great suburban conventions of Australian soaps.

Some of it is, frankly, slow and I looked at my watch a bunch of times. There are twists and turns and truly violent explosions in this story. Laura Wheelright, as Nicole, will be a big star as she has tons of screen presence in her role as Josh’s girlfriend. Frecheville will also be hugely famous in time.

Michod has an interesting cameo as a court reporter. All the brothers Cody are compelling actors. The police and lawyers do not come across as good guys. It’s a fantastic ensemble.

And yet, too much is crammed in and the story loses out to action scenes. Normally, I think things that go bang and explode are good in movies. But this could have used just a little more back story.

It’s easy to see why there isn’t much of that here. The director wants to let events unfold by themselves, as in the old 1940s films noir and in many French movies. But it becomes slightly episodic and fragmented as it tries to resolve the tales of too many people. There is something of the pace of Aussie soap operas in the jerky shifts from character to character.

The music is terrific and enhances the atmosphere very well. Sets and props are simple, but effective.

Undoubtedly, I’ll be talking about it for some time to come. There will be devotees of this who will argue with me that I am missing the point of it. Let them buy the DVD, with all the attendant extras. I really don’t want to see it again.

The Stratford Picturehouse audience grew restless. This means that, inevitably, people started chatting, chewing and texting loudly. You could see the fidget people shifting their arms and legs.

They were still talking about it and arguing afterwards. I suppose that’s a good thing.

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