Animal Kingdom (2010)

Written & Directed by David Michod

The beauty of cinema is that it is worldwide. Truly. I mean, sure, there are things that we, as Americans, can relate to better and understand better and take in better than something from a foreign country, but I have found that being educated in the culture of another country is priceless in the world experience. It is one thing to wall ourselves off and not care what happens elsewhere in the world, but the world is continually shrinking and soon it will be more apparent than it ever was that what happens in one place affects people everywhere. Cinema is universal. The reason I say this is because I had the privilege to see this Australian film from this year and I fear that too few films from other countries get seen, especially ones that are good, really good.

The film follows young Josh, who has just experienced the death of his mother. As a result he is flung back into a world of crime and danger that his mother once knew with her family. Forced to live with his criminal uncles and encouraging, supporting grandmother, Josh must choose between his still yet to be determined future and the family business. When the police, and a girl, get involved, the internal struggle for Josh and his family rages, leaving a war torn path behind all of them. Who will survive?

This is the type of film that is both bleak and hopeless, or so it seems. And the moving score of the film reflects this perfectly. The story is sad and Josh is trapped in a world which he clearly does not deserve, with which he wants no part of if he had his way. What is central to the success of this film is the central performance. Josh is played with such drab and melancholy, but at the same time with nuance and toughness by James Frecheville. He really does a fantastic job, as does the rest of the cast. In a film as raw and real as this, performances have to feel right, have to feel that realism, and it is pulled off very well here. The characters don’t ever feel like caricatures, but rather like people that belong in this story.

It is the type of film where the plot may not seem to be much, may seem like ground once before tread upon, but it is in the writing, in the directing, and in the acting that sets it apart. Instead of cliché, director Michod creates a telling portrait of life without hope and striving to still be able to find that hope that seems unattainable. For a first time filmmaker it is also remarkable to see a couple moments of perfection; the ending for instance. It is a beautiful portrait of humanity and survivalism. It invokes the cruelness, as well as the good, that persistently exists and is in conflict with one another in this world. It is universal.

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