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Wednesday 1 December 2010

Animal Kingdom: the definitive review, by Chris Murray. Plus WIN DVD copies here.

If you are yet to see Animal Kingdom, you are missing out on possibly the most awe-inspiring Australian movie of our time. Animal Kingdom is a 2010 Australian crime thriller written and directed by David Michôd. It received global critical acclaim and was the recipient of the World Cinema dramatic Grand Jury prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Josie's Juice has two DVD copies to give away - courtesy of Madman Entertainment. Simply click 'follow', and send an email with your name and address to: josiegags@optusnet.com.au. First two entries received will win.

And below is the definitive review of Animal Kingdom, by Chris Murray. He is the reason I watched the movie - showcased by his film event company Popcorn Taxi (see http://www.popcorntaxi.com.au/) - simply by the way he recounted just how blown away he was. "Better than Mad Max," he said. I was hooked. I HAD to see it. I was not disappointed. See the highlights from the Animal Kingdom/Popcorn Taxi movie event here: www.popcorntaxi.tv/events/animalkingdom/

Read this fantastic review by Chris - written exclusively for Josie's Juice - and then seriously, go out and buy the DVD this second.

Animal Kingdom DVD review, by Chris Murray.

When was the last time you said with non-ironic confidence, “I’ve just seen the most incredible Australian film…”? Unquestionably, this is the film to break that drought or indeed pop your patriotic cherry.

Director David Michôd (a former critic and magazine editor for ‘IF Magazine’) has leapt off the starting blocks with a feature debut that puts most seasoned directors to shame with powerful storytelling and a true sense of cinematic engagement; two elements that lack in most offerings no matter what country you were born in. Yet Michôd is no virgin having directed the exceptional shorts, Netherland Dwarf, Ezra White, LL.B. and Crossbow that, as with the proverbial Italian road system, have all led to Animal Kingdom. In fact when watching Netherland Dwarf you’ll witness a visual style and downplayed grace Animal Kingdom casually hits out of the park. It concretes domestic realism and anchors to a place of familiarity uniquely Australian, yet universally obvious – family. Although the sibling unit of the Cody’s presented in the latter are neighbours you’d never want to dispute with.

Recently orphaned, adolescent ‘J’ (James Frecheville) finds himself in the care of his grandmother ‘Smurf’ (Jackie Weaver). Hers is a household of testosterone and tattoos as her extended brood are known thieves prone to violence and illegal activity. Craig is running on drug-fueled adrenalin (Sullivan Stapleton); Darren is misunderstood and somewhat calm amongst the madness (Luke Ford); Barry isn’t even a family member (Joel Edgerton), but his Solomon ideals and fatherly qualities elevate him to a respected leader… and the other, ‘Pope’ (Ben Mendelsohn) is the emotionally unhinged wild-card. Ever inherited a dog that was mistreated? No matter how much love you give the ability to trust is shattered and it’ll turn on you in a heartbeat should fear or indecision be smelt– it has it’s own agenda, survival. Pope is a cornered rat, and the fuzz are closing in – they don’t want to ‘chat’, they want to crucify him. The somewhat untouchable nature of this crime family is at threat not only from Pope’s bad aura, the Police (corrupt, dangerous and unpredictable) themselves are changing the rules of engagement. When bravado turns to cold-blooded action; it’s ironically the Cody’s who spring into action and appear the heroic bastion for male justice. It’s the Wild West: an eye for an eyelash and a jaw for a tooth… it’s not about winning anymore, it’s about how much damage can inflict as you draw your last breath.

But not every cop is bent. Enter Guy Pearce as ‘Leckie’ – a cop striving to reason with the unreasonable, but he too is merely another creature struggling to survive an unsaid ‘law’ that bares no badge. His mission to secure ‘J’ as a good person before he succumbs to his family’s legacy appears honest – but just who can you trust in this dog-eat-dog world?

Michôd has delivered a classic tale with Biblical consequence. There is no wastage. Every action has a purpose and a consequence… and every corner turned reveals a dark shadow not seen before it. These characters, just like us, are indeed animals striving to survive and feed their flock. At times sacrifice is in order – and while the decision may be malicious it serves a higher purpose. Jackie Weaver can never be looked upon again as the ‘bubbly little thing’ we’ve known to love. There’s a reason she’s beaming a smile while her young intimidate, steal and kill – she’s the true ‘King’ of this world, and don’t you forget it.

“You’ve done some bad things, sweetie…”

Yet it’s still Mendelsohn’s tortured soul who lingers in the mind long after the closing credits. From the trailer we hear the melancholic strain of Air Supply’s 'All Out of Love' and feel the weight of a dark premise laced with emotion; but when that track actually appears in context as Pope watches TV with such sad disgust and confusion, it’s a blow to the jugular that will leave you reeling, awkward and ultimately raises hair on your neck.

During the opening moments of this film we are witnessing the legacy of the outlaw – the CTV evidence that crime exists not merely on TV but in our street, our shops, our community. Then the slow reveal of a Copperart lion to the imposing and magnificently majestic score that commands your attention; buddy, you’re hooked, bagged and won’t look away nor at your watch for the next two hours. The crime genre doesn’t need $100m car chases, Scorsese rip-off dialogue, or indeed the fluff and tack of Underbelly-style romanticism. True crime cinema should make you clench your guts akin to being a passenger travelling too fast towards a busy intersection - your friend’s older, nastier, brother is at the helm. It’s out of your control and terrifying; but so fuckin’ exciting and REAL you wouldn’t change it for the world.

I used to believe that Mad Max was the most powerful Australian film ever made – now, I’m not so sure.

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