Animal Kingdom is a crime thriller

As gritty as they come, another Aussie crime action thriller with great performances and good social commentary as well. Guy Pierce is known for his starring role in the indie masterpiece “Memento” and had a lead role in the recent smash hit “Hurt Locker.” In this film plays the good guy, sort of.
He is the head cop who reasons with naïve nephew Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) in an attempt to get inside the Cody crime family. The Cody’s are a piece of work; three brothers who have lived a life of crime and a doting grandmother Janine who is Ma Barker reincarnated. Janine is played to the hilt by Jacki Weaver and puts out one of several great performances in this Aussie crime mystery thriller.
The film starts with an introduction to Joshua ‘J’ Cody, nephew to the brothers. When he loses his only protector to a drug overdose he is forced to reach out to his desperate relatives for guidance.
James Frecheville plays J, a combination of family conscience and adolescent confusion. This character embodies the guilt and self-doubt that infiltrates the drug-dealing, murderous Cody’s. They feel for each other but hate society in general.
They are relatively peace loving at home but deadly everywhere else. Like the legendary American James family they know only brutality and crime but they see the handwriting on the wall. The word is out that their days are numbered.
Guy Pierce is a great actor and has a fascinating grasp of the contradictions at play. In John Hillcoat’s Aussie western “The Proposition” he plays a Jesse James type outlaw in the late 1800s. He is forced by corrupt law enforcement to track down and kill his older, criminal, brother in order to save his younger, innocent, brother from the gallows.
In this screenplay he is the head detective who is dedicated to stopping the Codys’ reign of terror by any means possible, legal or illegal. His own doubt and contradictory motivations resonate with J’s although the two are at the opposite ends of the social spectrum.
Pierce parlayed his success in “Proposition” to a lead role in the Oscar winning smash “The Hurt Locker” playing Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson. With this film he is truly on a role.
Of course, the best roles are always the bad guys and Ben Mendelsohn has the best part in the screenplay. As eldest brother Pope Cody he is the both the managerial and spiritual leader of the crime family but his options are diminishing.
He is on the run from a police force that has taken off the gloves as the match heads into the final rounds. His only friends are his immediate family and his drug-dealing partner Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton). Devastated when Brown is killed, presumably by rogue police, he comes out of hiding to reunite with the family to determine their next move.
At this point writer/director David Michôd could have headed the family for the “one last job” path, after which they would go straight. Alternatively, he could head them straight into self-destruction. He chose the latter path.
This film follows on the heels of the ultra-edgy Australian film noir “The Square.” As in the Australian award winning noir crime thriller, which Joel Edgerton co-wrote for direction by his brother, Nash Edgerton, Joel has a minor but important part. “Kingdom” is not a film noir, the characters are not good people who chance to take a wrong path.
They are products of a dysfunctional society that is executing the final phases of their destruction. They are tragic heroes who lost the lottery when the breaks were handed out. The plot purports to explore the Melbourne underworld but the story is the same as “Public Enemy Number One.” They are going to get it; the only question is how.
Law enforcement officers and criminals are depicted as two sides of the same coin. Each group has given up most ethical principles in favor of the practicality of the moment. This is, at the same time, a nod in favor of the success of smart criminals and a social criticism of ineffective and hamstrung law enforcement.
The drug world is a good context for these contradictions since drug “crimes” bring “honest” people the drugs they want. The police are forced , in a sense, to fight against popular demand and are often crippled from within by corrupt officers and politicians.
Casting is by Kirsty McGregor and film editing is by Luke Doolan, both “Square” alums. The latest in a string of violent action pieces from Australia, the challenge now is for that film industry to start on another genre in the hopes of mirroring these successes with films relying less on violence and more on challenges facing everyday people.
Written and Directed by: David Michôd
Runtime: 112 minutes
Genre: Crime | Drama
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn ...  Andrew 'Pope' Cody
Joel Edgerton ...  Barry Brown
Guy Pearce ...  Leckie
Luke Ford ...  Darren Cody
Jacki Weaver ...  Janine Cody
Sullivan Stapleton ...  Craig Cody
James Frecheville ...  Joshua 'J' Cody
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