directed by David Michôd
It seems that, of late, in order to find the strongest examples of both crime drama and western, you need to look to the Great Southern Land, and it has been a long time since Australia has produced such mammothly strong films. The western to which I refer is the absolute classic of the genre, The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat and written by the iconic icon, Nick Cave. Hell, while we’re on the subject of phenomenal westerns of the past decade, I can’t ignore the tremendous work of Andrew Dominik (ok, ok! I know he’s from New Zealand!) on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but enough jabbering about these other gems. David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom is hands down one of the finest examples of crime drama this side of Gomorrah, which puts it in the running for one of the finest of all time. Michôd’s story revolves around a family of crooks and the great unraveling of their lives at the hands of an overzealous police force and internal maladies. When 17 year old Josh (nice work, James Frecheville) finds himself orphaned after his mother’s overdose, he comes under the care of the family he barely knows, ruled by Grandma Smurf, the matriarch who lives for her boys. Jacki Weaver is astounding as Smurf, blending sugary sweet with pure evil to gut turning effect. Smurf’s boys include Baz (Joel Edgerton), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and Darren (Luke Ford), who all see the writing on the wall: that the sun has set on their grand plans. It is insinuated that this possibly may have something to do with a trespass of oldest brother, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn, you haunted my dreams after I watched this film), and it is Pope who seems to be the source of much family tension. When events turn dark and the going gets rough, a detective tries to give Josh some perspective. Guy Pearce has long shown himself to be a heavy weight talent, from leading roles (The Proposition) to minute roles that he fills so richly (The Road, The Hurt Locker), and he doesn’t disappoint as the hard boiled detective trying to do something good. The world is full of great big truths and pissy little bugs, as Detective Leckie would say, and Animal Kingdom is a great truth, a film that will hold its own amidst the passage of time. From the soundtrack to the directing, Animal Kingdom is top notch and worth seeing.
A quasi-Australia related question: Have any of you, my fellow film fanatics out there, watched Van Diemen’s Land, directed by Jonathn auf der Heide? It looked marvelous from the trailer, but it never played here, and I can’t even get it on my Netflix queue. Is it worth obsessing about, like I have been for the past few years?