Director David Michod Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver, Guy Pearce, James Frecheville, Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Ford, Joel Edgerton
Few Australian films offer such brilliant insight into our seedy underworld like Animal Kingdom. On debut writer/director David Michod has not just prised open a window but torn it off the wall, shedding a spotlight on what makes those Australian crime families tick.
After the death of his mother Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) moves in with his estranged grandmother Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch of a small gang of criminals. After the return of her eldest son Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) from hiding the death of one of their own and their retaliation, sets off a cat-and-mouse game involving police sergeant Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce). Leckie tries to save J as he’s the only Cody not yet corrupted while the Cody’s identify him as the weak link so they attempt to assimilate him into their world. As things begin to unravel the Cody’s all lose their composure trying to stay ahead of the law, from panicking and running to complete and utter psychopathy. As the dust settles J becomes a potential star witness to all previous events and forced to make the choice of fight them or join them.
Michod has clearly done his homework here. There are several real-world references to Australia’s criminal culture that help accurately depict the lifestyle and relationships hidden behind the veil. Save for a few slow motion shots it does tend to look dull and uninspired, but it makes for these shortcomings with characterisation that is beyond amazing. Weaver’s performance as the manipulative and corruptive Smurf is incredibly powerful but it’s Mendelsohn who steals the show. His silent intimidation is both stone-cold crazy and methodical at the same time.
Guy Pearce is always a winner but while Joel Edgerton is solid he’s not present long enough to develop Baz past a minor supporting role. It’s only Frecheville who doesn’t come to the party. His attempts to portray an under-educated disinterested teenager have come across as an under-performing disinterested actor.
If you’re interested in a great look at disorganised crime in Australia, which is actually quite distinct, then Animal Kingdom is a great place to begin. Unfortunately when it comes to great Australian cinema you’re choices are limited, but as Animal Kingdom shows us they do exist, you just have to wait for them to come along.
8 of 10
Don’t Say A Word
Director Gary Fleder Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Bean, Brittany Murphy, Jennifer Esposito, Famke Janssen, Sky McCole Bartusiak, Oliver Platt
Some films stand the test of time because of their brilliance but others are remembered for being such products of their time they’re forever stuck in that era.
In 1991 a team of jewel thieves led by Patrick Koster (Sean Bean) steal a valuable gem in a not so subtle manner, only for two members to betray Koster and take off with the stone. Ten years later child psychiatrist Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) is invited to examine a patient of friend and fellow doctor Louis Sachs (Oliver Platt).
Two seemingly separate worlds are brought together by Sachs patient Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), who knows a number that Koster needs in order to find the jewel that was taken from him ten years prior. Him and his gang break into a neighbouring apartment in Conrad’s building, kidnap his daughter Jessie (Sky McCole Bartusiak) and blackmail him into using his sessions with Burrows to learn the number. Meanwhile another seemingly unrelated murder involving Sachs’ girlfriend leads Detective Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito) to the same destination as both Conrad and Koster.
Don’t Say A Word is a throwaway film with early-2000s forever branded upon it, but despite the negative press it’s really not all that bad. The performances, particularly Douglas, Bean and Murphy, are more than satisfactory and while utterly conventional with some obvious plot holes it’s not the worst kidnapping thriller ever made. It’s some decent talent recruited for a bit of entertainment and nothing more.
5 of 10
Director Nicholaus Goossen Starring Allen Covert, Linda Cardellini, Doris Roberts, Nick Swardson, Peter Dante, Joel Moore, Shirley Jones, Shirley Knight, Kevin Nealon, Jonah Hill, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Jonathan Loughran, Kevin Nash
Speaking of dumb entertainment, if you’ve seen any stoner comedy in the last fifteen years then you’ve seen Grandma’s Boy, and chances are you enjoyed it.
Alex (Allen Covert) is a video-game tester who’s kicked out of his home after his room-mate Chris (Jonathan Loughran) spends their rent on Filipino prostitutes, forcing him to move in with his grandmother Lilly (Doris Roberts). In between having to work for the arrogant and narcissistic J.P (Joel Moore) with his incredibly repressed friend Jeff (Nick Swardson), a new boss and potential love interest in Samantha (Linda Cardellini) and trying to develop his own video game all Alex really wants to do is get stoned with his friend and pot dealer Dante (Peter Dante).
Meanwhile we have a lot of pot, a huge stoner house party, stoned elderly, an explicit sexual relationship with a major age disparity, Jonah Hill before he became famous, a lion, a cameo by Kevin Nash and a self-defence trained monkey! It’s all stupid but it’s funny and if you like stoner comedies, or if you’re a stoner yourself, then you’ll love Grandma’s Boy (for best effect watch it stoned).
7 of 10