Reviews – David Michod’s Animal Kingdom

This review was written as an assignment for reporting arts and culture and was published on Monash University student website

Sundance award winning Animal Kingdom is an emotionally charged Australian crime thriller portraying the story of a teenage boy stuck in a rut between his criminal family and the policeman trying to save him.

David Michod’s debut feature film tells the story of Joshua ‘J’ Cody (newcomer James Frecheville), a 17-year-old boy whose mother overdoses on heroin. Alone, he moves in with his overbearing, doting grandmother Smurf Cody (Jackie Weaver) who lives with her criminal sons. When Uncle Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) who’s on the run from the cops returns home unexpectedly, and one of his close associates is killed, all hell breaks loose.

A distraught ‘J’ becomes embroiled in the criminal acts of his uncles, with no means of escape. However, Detective Senior Sergeant Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce) feels that he can ‘rescue’ ‘J’ from the den of savage animals that the Cody family have become.

Air Supply’s All Out of Love is a perfect fit as Animal Kingdom’s primary song. The lyrics “I’m all out of love, I’m so lost without you,” superbly sum up the feelings ‘J’ must be having after losing his mother.

What sets Animal Kingdom apart from other Australian films is the fact that rather than solely focusing on the country’s landscape, like the dry barren land of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, or the suburban setting of The Castle, the film focuses on its characters and how their actions affect others.

In the Animal Kingdom press kit, Michod explains the reasoning for focusing on the criminal landscape. Upon relocating to Melbourne from Sydney, he became fascinated with the amount of writing, including newspaper reports, about the local crime scene.

“The thing that made me want to make a movie about this world has always been to comprehend how people live lives like these where the stakes are so high. Where making mistakes can mean the difference between life or death or freedom and incarceration; where a whole level of society operates just below what we know as moral and correct,” Michod said.

Although this is Frecheville’s debut feature role, he did a magnificent job in matching the acting talents of some of his well-established Australian co-stars (Love My Way’s Dan Wyllie, Underbelly’s Sullivan Stapleton, and Secret Life of Us star Joel Edgerton). In doing so, Michod sacrificed his reputation as an accomplished short film filmmaker including, Spider, and Crossbow, by using an unknown actor.

In an interview at L’Olivo Café in East Malvern, Frecheville told me he had to repress his emotions to prepare for the distraught character of ‘J’. “I just knew that because the character was so emotionally repressed that I just had to shut everything down and make it really minimal,” he said.

Animal Kingdom will keep you twisting and turning in your seat in anticipation as to what will happen next. The final scene, in which an event occurs that most wouldn’t expect, resonates in your mind well after you leave the cinema.

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