Animal kingdom: Best movies of 2011, pick 2
After his mother overdoses on heroin, 17 year old Jay goes to live with his grandmother who heads a Jesse James-esque family-run criminal posse with her sons begins the premise of Animal Kingdom, Pinstripe Magazine‘s best movies of 2011 pick 2. However, when Jay is directly implicated in the murder of two police men, his uncle’s paranoid fantasy that Jay is an informant spirals out of control and leads him to murder jay’s girlfriend leaving Jay to testify and unleash his own justice.
An obvious comparison to Animal Kingdom would be the brilliant Aldrich’s Grissom Gang – a gallows humored drama also involving an Oedipal mama in denial who loves her boys and dictates their every move. Christopher Walken’s At Close Range would be another obvious comparison; a small town drama, punctuated by Madonna’s haunting Live to Tell soundtrack.
Thankfully, there is nothing obvious about David Michod’s Animal Kingdom, which musters skilled dramatic tension within a dysfunctional family system.
Central to the plot is Smurf, a domineering matriarch who’s public displays of affection to her offspring make uncomfortable viewing as kisses linger a beat too long. Her constant power struggle with eldest head boy, Pope also gives us a thread to link Michod’s work to Sophocles. A paranoid schizophrenic who forges his dose of anti psychotics in favor of crack and smack cocktails, Pope leads a bloodied revenge killing by murdering two police officers after his brother is shot dead. It is our teenage protagonist, Jay who supplies the car. As Pope hides out in drug dens, we follow this very dysfunctional family as the remaining brothers are killed of one by one in a vendetta, leaving Jay, to replace Pope as Mama’s favorite as the new king.
Despite his villainous character, it is the chilling Pope who steals the show. With his narcotic-addled stares and over willingness to help out his family, his paranoia fuels to eliminate any one who could finger him and baby brother, Darren, to the scene of the crime. Injecting Jay’s girlfriend with a lethal dose of heroin, Pope turns his attentions to his nephew, Jay, who opts for witness protection.
The cinematography is fantastic – wide shots of the Australian landscape are shot in superb slow burning realism. When Craig is shot dead by armed police, trying to escape, running through fields toting a double barrel, the breathtaking sequence rivals any western, spaghetti or otherwise.
The film’s premise – The Animal kingdom is delivered by Guy Pearce, an honest cop whose valiant determination to put Pope in jail provides Jay with the missing father. Thankfully, Jay sees the wisdom in going against family tradition. Cameos further strengthen the performances. The bent cop and bent lawyer are forced by Smurf to attempt to murder Jay.
Animal Kingdom is a pastiche of criminal suburbia, petty crime and complex family dynamics that make this a classic and rightly, deserve its place alongside classic movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas and State of Grace.
Check out another must see movie, Drive 2011: Coolest film of 2011, movie review, pick 1