Move over Ma Barker; there’s a new mastermind crime mama in town. That would be the doting and crime plotting grandmother, Janine “Smurf” Cody (Jacki Weaver) in the Melbourne underworld crime world that’s exposed in Animal Kingdom.
The movie pulls the viewer in right from the opening scene where Joshua (James Frecheville) is watching TV next to what appears to be a sleeping female. After the ambulance takes her away, we learn in a solemn phone call to his grandmother, that it was him mother, who is now dead from a heroin overdose. Barely raising the blood pressure cuff reading above normal, Joshua confesses he told the authorities he was over 18, but he’s not and unsure what he should do now.
Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver, Luke Ford
Smurf is excited that she can finally see her grandson she calls J, since it’s been awhile and tells him to come to her house immediately. Once there it’s clear that all the warnings about her mother’s family were true. All of his uncles are hardened criminals and Smurf is the mastermind puppeteer who pulls the strings.
Joshua tries to maintain a cold distance from his uncles. Fortunately the worst, Andrew “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn), has been banned from the house for his lack of self-control. Joshua keeps a low profile in the household, instead spending his time with his girlfriend Nicole (Laura Wheelwright), even asking her parents if he can stay there. They agree but his uncles insist he come “home.”
Laura Wheelwright & James Frecheville
The crimes the Cody's commit are intensified by Pope and Craig’s (Sullivan Stapleton) viciousness. Darren (Luke Ford) is not quite as cold-blooded as his brothers, but knows he must appease Smurf, who is so odd, she even insists on kissing her “boys” passionately on the lips.
James Frecheville & Guy Pearce
Of course, it’s obvious that an earthquake will erupt the status quo in this scenario and it happens when Joshua is forced to be a real man and follow in his uncle’s footprints. He struggles to remain silent when the gang is picked up for murder and Joshua is questioned by Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce). He takes an interest in the young boy and hopes to save him from the crime-filled journey of his family. He hides Joshua in protective custody, but that goes afoul as well. Their underhanded attorney (Dan Wyllie) tries to work his magic in getting them all released but fails.
James Frecheville, Jacki Weaver, Dan Wyllie
When Joshua learns what Pope has done to Laura; there’s no more options for him but one.
Animal Kingdom won the Grand Jury Prize at the World Cinema- 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It’s a captivating story even if crime and bloodshed is not your thing. It’s excellently directed (also written by) David Michôd. The cast is excellent – all creating extremely believable characters. There’s definitely some borrowing of the mother character to James Cagney in the 1949 White Heat in similar scenes and scenarios, but Weaver stands on her own in this role.
Frecheville has the hardest role to pull off, since much of the movie he’s relatively silent – except for a few unneeded voiceovers. Yet he never fails to let the viewer see his pain, feel his frustrations or understand his dilemmas throughout his powerful performance.
Photo credits: Adam Arkapaw, Narelle Sheean, Tony Mott, John Tsiavis / Sony Pictures Classics