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Film Review

Animal Kingdom

When Animal Kingdom ended, I could barely move. I had just seen an intense, gritty, realistic story about an Australian crime family. No glamour here; one of the most gripping films that I have ever watched. It opens with black and white stills taken from bank cameras, of robberies by men with masks and guns. Then we see Josh, a 17 year old, sitting on the couch next to his mom, watching television. But his mom, a heroin addict, has just died from an overdose, which doesn't immediately register on him. The medics leave with his mother's body. Stunned, he calls his grandmother, because he has no place to live. She takes him in, and we meet her sons, who have been robbing banks and committing other violent crimes. The cousins are truly damaged goods, one a heroin addict, another prone to violent rages, and the third quiet and depressed. Their mother, Josh's grandmother, is fearsome and as cold blooded as any reptile, dresses thirty years too young, exerts a strange control on her sons, and often kisses them in more than motherly fashion. They reluctantly welcome Josh, and think about including him in their crimes. When one of the brothers is killed by the police, the others swear vengeance. Josh seems still dazed by his mother's death, but never with tears, has a girl friend, who comes over to his new house. She is not welcomed by the cousins because they are fearful that "women are weak and talk too much". Josh narrates part of the film, including his very adult observation that "criminals always come undone". The story takes some very unexpected turns, which I won't reveal, but no one will fall asleep watching. Every scene is ominous, and the tension never subsides, all without flashy scenes or car chases.

The acting, by all, is outstanding, and the film is essentially a well done character study of a violent and dysfunctional family. The camera work is masterful, with most of the scenes shot indoors or outside at night. The score seems perfect; elegiac in mood, with organ music mixed with electronic sounds. Animal Kingdom is very accomplished. It is astonishing that this is the first full length film for David Michod, a young Australian, who both wrote and directed it. I loved it. It follows a succession of well done thrillers from Australia, most recently The Square. Playing now on the SFFS's screen at the Kabuki, but may leave Thursday.

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