An Unusual Family Springs to Life in Animal Kingdom (DVD)
The opening scene of Animal Kingdom, a 2010 crime drama from Australia now on DVD, presages the mood of the entire film. A seventeen-year-old boy’s mother slumps beside him on a couch dying from a heroin overdose while he watches a boisterous television quiz program. He calls for an ambulance and when the emergency crew arrives and tends to his mother, he can’t keep his eyes from the television. The audience watches as his attention to his mother’s situation is unfailingly diverted by events on the screen.
The Cody family is functioning at a very high level—as long as everyone keeps his mouth shut and is engaged in the family business, which happens to be armed robbery and cop killing. The boy Josh’s mother isolated him from her family because they were so dangerous. If dangerous is another word for psychotic and sociopathic, one tends to agree. When Mom’s dispatched, Josh calls Grandma Janine, aka "Smurf," to give her the news.
Grandma picks Josh (James Frecheville) up and installs him in her house with her sons. She is as loyal and loving as a second is long. She is also the leader of a ruthless crime family comprised of Granny and her sons. Jacki Weaver takes frigid to a new low as Grandma Cody—the grandmother from hell. In the Cody family, compassion is non-existent, and when the police murder one of the gang members, sorrow is quickly replaced with revenge. Revenge is one reason for murder among this clan; expediency is another.
Animal Kingdom moves slowly as the violence and insanity build. Stephen Holden of The New York Times praised it as “An Australian answer to Goodfellas.” That may be true if no one in Australia has ever seen—or heard of--Goodfellas. Like Goodfellas, Animal Kingdom is dark, but it lacks its humor, likeable characters, and rapid pacing. To compare the films is to do them a disservice, especially Animal Kingdom which presents a picture that is relentlessly grim. If viewers think they will see a film like Goodfellas, they will be disappointed.
Instead, watch Animal Kingdom on its own merits—a bleak tragedy that is punctuated with death from start to finish.