Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Animal Kingdom (Brockway)

Animal Kingdom
Review by Ian Brockway

"Animal Kingdom" portrays Australia at its most ferocious. It centers on a young man, J Cody, (James Frecheville) who loses his mother and becomes plunged into a criminal family run by his acidic, sarcastic and  domineering grandmother (Jacki Weaver) The grandmother would make the late Divine of "Pink Flamingos" run for cover; she is a real life representation of "The Filthiest Person Alive".

Weaver relishes her role. Like all the best scary villains, Janine Cody intimidates under the guise of maternal warmth, sugaring suggestions of torture and death. In the film, she frequently makes pancakes while having the murder of her own grandson on her mind. Not since Minnie Castevet in "Rosemary's Baby" has there been such a diabolical character conveyed by the surface of domesticity.

J Cody enters a literal animalistic world of violence and meat as soon as he enters the house. There are cheap lithographs of lions on the wall and ceramic figurines of beasts adorn the door, the television and the shelving. The men of the roost hurl angry profanity at each other for sport and even their wrestling at play looks harsh and mean-spirited. Again and again there are repeated symbols of meat, lions and the savannah. The uncles wear jungle-print shirts, depicting palms or trees. Their biceps are tattooed with beasts of prey and the shower curtain depicts the African Savannah.  While the house itself is rich in foliage, its windows are barred like a locked cage.

One uncle in particular named Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) paces back and forth, perpetually moving like a Great White Shark in human form. He vows revenge due to his brother's brains being splattered against a car windshield, thereby initiating a police killing spree. Pope smiles anemically. Fish-faced and stubbly, he only comes alive when he is killing. The rest of the time he is drunk and hazy watching soccer or old MTV music videos.

The watch-ability of this film is in its little details: the bestial gazes of the characters and close-ups of the eyes, which are as menacing as any lion, even when someone is telling a joke. The musical score alone, comes in seductively soft with easy listening bits of Air Supply or Jimmy Cliff, only to abruptly morph into sinister monotone chords reminiscent of the soundtrack from "Scarface".

Newcomer James Frecheville gives a wonderfully truthful and dazed performance. He may intend to be good but sits passive, literally drugged by the carnal amorality of his new family.  The local Victoria police are predators themselves. White shirted and pin-striped, they resemble pilot fish in a gore-soaked sea. When they appear seemingly out of nowhere, there is no comfort in their bearing.  They are bloodline cousins of the police from Hitchcock's "Psycho".  When the final climax is upon us and the young J. Cody puts down the gun with a fresh relative kill, there is hot dog meat in the remaining uncle's mouth. As a young cub, J couldn't be any other way. Such is the law of the kingdom.

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