Film Review: The Perfect Crime Drama

Title: Animal Kingdom

Director: David Michôd

Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgarton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford.

Release Date: Tbc

 Animal Kingdom tells the story of a 17-year-old named J who, after his mother overdoses in front of him, turns to his grandmother whom he has not seen in many years. It is revealed that said grandmother, along with J’s uncles, are part of a criminal family.

The plot follows J as he tries to fit into this family, while the police begin to crack down on crime. J’s uncle is high on their list of priorities. As the family’s criminal activities escalate and the police start to close in, the tension builds as J has to choose where his loyalties lie.

However, tense doesn’t quite describe it. There hasn’t been a film this extreme since David Lynch’s Inland Empire. Most of the film’s emotional power is due to its superb soundtrack. The score, which is somewhere between Hans Zimmer and Angelo Badalamenti, maintains an almost continuous and unsettling drone in the background. This is combined very effectively with a sharp, minimalist sound design.

It’s rare to see such restraint these days with regards to sound. The film largely features diegetic sound which occasionally blends into the ever-present and unsettling score. There is a consistent tension built up over the first half of the film which never truly emerges until its final moments.

Out of all the performances, Ben Mendelsohn steals the film as Pope, J’s unpredictable and deranged uncle. You’re never quite sure where he’s going with a conversation, to the point where you’re half expecting him to whisper “why so serious?”

Pope is also the source of most of the film’s uneasy but surprisingly frequent humour, which doesn’t break the tension, so much as momentarily distract you from it. However, hearing the Harvey Norman jingle did elicit quite a few chuckles from the audience. James Frencheville also deserves recognition for perhaps the first truly accurate on-screen representation of an awkward teenager.

The final third of the film isn’t quite as strong as the preceding sequences. It meanders and stretches the plot out as far it can. However, this is beneficial in some ways, as when the final scene does come, you’re relaxed enough to be utterly shocked by the suddenness of it.

In a Nutshell: An atypical crime drama that is intense, well-acted and beautifully shot.

– Richard Drumm