Animal Kingdom (15)
This stark and brutal Aussie thriller presents crime as a kindest with the dysfunctional Cody clan epitomising all that is rotten about career villains and their corruptive influence.
As the saying goes, the Cody are “known to the police” in their neighbourhood of Melbourne. Yet with their leader Andrew, aka Pope, in prison they’ve lost their edge and fearlessness. Baz wants out and says as much to his siblings and to nephew Josh (James Frecheville), thrust into this nest of vipers following the death of his mother.
It’s through Josh’s eyes that the family’s ideology is communicated, and it’s clear that ‘mum’ is the word. In fact that becomes increasingly apparent as matriarch Janine (Jacki Weaver, justifiably Oscar-nominated) emerges as the real power, urging on her boys with a mixture of reptilian glee and all-consuming mother love that borders on the quasi-incestuous.
When a job goes wrong the Codys – with freshly released Pope at the fore – declare war on the police. It’s a bad move that leaves Baz dead in his car, gunned down by cops who appear to have a shoot-to-kill policy.
Suddenly Josh becomes the touchstone – for the police and his relations. He’s seen it from the inside. What’s more, he’s caught the attention of Pope, a staring-eyed paranoiac gradually revealed to be psychotic.
The assumption, shared by Pope and Janine, that Josh will readily be absorbed into the family’s killing ways, is mistaken. Josh is a reluctant participant and Pope realises that he will not accept the code of silence. Thus, as the Codys’ Achilles heel, he becomes the focus for Leckie (Guy Pearce), the detective determined to nail the family, whilst his own blood – led by the smiling, shark-like Janine – look to silence him forever.
Combining elements of the Krays and the Corleones, Animal Kingdom is a small-town throwback to past crime tableaux that is rooted in plausibility and truth. Multi-layered and utterly compelling, it considers the seductive qualities of villainy and the seemingly endemic nature of police corruption.
Eschewing anything remotely akin to the scope and sweep of the Godfather series, this is a seedy tale of beer-guzzling Neanderthals. It’s about life on the wrong side of a narrow street where life is cheap and the innocents get slaughtered. Nothing new there, except director David Michôd gives it all a sense of urgency and a constant, lingering undercurrent of nastiness made material by Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn, as Pope.