What can be said that hasn't been said already? While Underbelly gets mileage out of the supposed glamour of Australian crime, Animal Kingdom shows life outside the law to be a brutal, joyless experience, with quiet desperation marked by blind panic and a barely-kept-in-check sense of terror. From the punch-in-the-gut opening scene to the did-I-just-see-that ending, this is not just one of the best Australian films ever made – which it inarguably is – but one of the best films of 2010, full stop.
The performances are all astonishing, but two stand out in particular. For those who grew up watching Ben Mendelsohn play variations on his standard goofy nice bloke, his performance as the unhinged Pope is as terrifying and revelatory as that of John Jarratt in Wolf Creek. Jacki Weaver's blithely positive crime mother Janine, meanwhile, could so easily have slipped into caricature were it not for Weaver's firm grasp on the role. It says a lot about the film that excellent performances by the likes of Joel Edgerton (as Pope's close offsider Barry) and Guy Pearce (as police detective Leckie) are barely footnotes in comparison, as well as with newcomer James Frecheville who carries the film in the central performance of Joshua "J" Cody. We see the story unfold through J's eyes – he's absent for only a handful of scenes – and it's hell of a way to start a career, especially given the calibre of his costars. But save your pity for first-time writer/director David Michôd: he's left himself nowhere to go but down.
Extras Director commentary with Michôd, cast commentary, making-of, trailer, Michôd's short film Crossbow and more
Madman, MA 15+ $39.95