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Animal Kingdom DVD Review

Animal Kingdom (2010) movie poster Animal Kingdom

US Theatrical Release: August 13, 2010 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: David Michôd

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn (Andrew "Pope" Cody), Joel Edgerton (Barry "Baz" Brown), Guy Pearce (Detective Senior Sgt. Nathan Leckie), Luke Ford (Darren Cody), Jacki Weaver (Janine "Smurf" Cody), Sullivan Stapleton (Craig Cody), James Frecheville (Joshua "J" Cody), Dan Wyllie (Ezra White), Anthony Hayes (Detective Justin Norris), Laura Wheelwright (Nicky Henry), Mirrah Foulkes (Catherine Brown), Justin Rosniak (Detective Randall Roache), Susan Prior (Alicia Henry), Clayton Jacobson (Gus Emery), Anna Lise Phillips (Barrister Justine Hopper)
Animal Kingdom is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).Animal Kingdom ranks 70th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

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Despite the names they share and the Google searches they'll vie for, I don't see much confusion arising between Animal Kingdom the theme park and Animal Kingdom the movie. The former is Walt Disney World's weakest park, blending environmentalist zoo features with an assortment of rides and shows. The latter is an Australian crime drama that ranks among 2010's most acclaimed films.

The feature debut of writer/director David Michôd, Animal Kingdom tells the story of an Aussie family coming together and apart. The movie opens on 17-year-old Joshua Cody (James Frecheville) calmly watching a game show.
The woman on the couch with him who appears to be sleeping is his mother and, we learn, she has actually overdosed on heroin and died. While showing no emotion to this episode, the inarticulate Joshua ("J" for short) calls up his estranged grandmother (Jacki Weaver) in the hopes that she might help with the funeral arrangements.

That phone call paves the path to familial reconnection, as J comes to Melbourne to spend time with his three uncles (Ben Mendelsohn, Luke Ford, and Sullivan Stapleton) and their associate (Joel Edgerton). Each has run afoul of the law to some degree, mostly having hands in vague robberies and drug operations. The law, meanwhile, is ready to catch up with them. There are unmarked police cars parked in front of houses keeping an eye on activity. An air of appropriate paranoia hangs over the Codys.

The "uncle" who appears to be the most decent and grounded is shockingly killed by some dirty cops, immediately changing the family's plans. Soon after, a couple of cops walking into a trap are murdered, with suspicion obviously pointing at the grieving brothers. Much like Michael Corleone in The Godfather, J is not accustomed to the family business. He doesn't know the protocol for handling police interrogation and girlfriends. And yet, he suddenly finds himself carrying shards of guilt and responsibility. J has his innate allegiance to his relatives tested, as consummate detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce) zeroes in on the boy, seeing his youth and naïveté as potential keys to busting the family's carefully maintained crime empire.

Newly-orphaned Australian teen Joshua "J" Cody (James Frecheville) gets a taste of his family's criminal dealings when he moves into their suburban Melbourne home.

I was a bit skeptical of the hullabaloo surrounding Animal Kingdom. A number of films centering on criminality rank among the most celebrated of the past few decades. Many of them, like Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (a movie which The New York Times' cover quote compares this to), are full of merit, with the mob setting lending itself to strong emotion and rich character drama. Others, I feel, get a little bit of a boost from their subject matter, with viewers deriving some unspoken guilty pleasure from being privy to alluring worlds of drugs and violence.

Animal Kingdom cannot be accused of the latter charges because it deliberately remains coy and protective of what it shows. Drugs are not glamorized or trivialized. For that matter, we never get a sense of the Codys being an organized crime unit. They're more like a tight-knit family with some illegal side streams of income. They've got an ally in a dirty narcotics cop, but we don't feel like they have button men offing people for them. The film is far more interesting this way, with the viewer assuming the limited perspective of outsider J and experiencing some of the same thoughts and conflicting emotions as this young protagonist.

It is remarkably easy to settle into the film's world, as we become acquainted with the characters. Michôd's fine direction presents equally compelling options to be mulled over and considered. With whom your sympathies lie is open to interpretation and introspection. The personalities are complex, the interactions intimate, and the plot progression almost unfailingly engrossing. Save for the accents, the steering wheels being on the right side of cars, and the police officers' hats being checkered, there is little to identify this as an Australian story. While the local folk might not like that (and could perhaps harshly judge the realism), it opens the film up to global audiences with its savory conundrums and universally relatable themes.

Oscar buzz surrounds Jacki Weaver for her role as Janine "Smurf" Cody, the not so innocent matriarch of a Melbourne crime family. Guy Pearce plays mustachioed police detective Nathan Leckie, seen here interrogating J, to whom he'll extend a witness protection program offer.

Michôd's debut does almost everything right, never losing its grip or settling for less than arresting content, even when altogether skipping a climactic sequence it had been building up to, letting us figure out how it went.

Though nearly unanimously praised around the globe, Animal Kingdom has limited award season prospects, due in part to its foreign but not foreign language nature. By far the film's greatest subject of recognition has been Jacki Weaver, who recently won the National Board of Review's supporting actress award and last night competed against Amy Adams, Helena Bonham Carter, Mila Kunis, and Melissa Leo in the corresponding category at the Golden Globes. The singling out is less about stealing scenes (although Weaver is terrific) than it is about there being so few interesting and substantial roles for women over 60 (or 40, for that matter). Weaver seizes this golden opportunity for all it's worth, making an indelible impression in the part of Grandma "Smurf."

Despite losing the Golden Globe as expected, the exposure from the ceremony should at least raise awareness for tomorrow's DVD and Blu-ray debut from Sony Pictures Classics.

Animal Kingdom DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.95
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($26.99 SRP, reduced from $34.95) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The picture quality of Animal Kingdom's 2.35:1 widescreen presentation is top-notch. The element is sharp, clean, and detailed, which is especially appreciated, because the photography is one of the film's many positive traits. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also commendable, nicely balancing J's monologue, dialogue, score, and music. The few loud gunshots jar and clearly that is exactly what they are supposed to do.

Donning a beard to keep looking like Conan O'Brien, Australian actor Joel Edgerton explains his involvement in "The Making of 'Animal Kingdom.'" Following the movie's June 2010 LA Film Fest premiere, a moderator and audience members question Animal Kingdom's cast and crew.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The DVD's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer/director David Michôd. His first-time filmmaker enthusiasm isn't enough to emerge victorious in the uphill battle of solo commenting. Comprised largely of lulls and meaningless chatter, the track does mention deleted scenes (none of which you'll find here) and some production facts. Still, it's a waste of time you wouldn't expect.
If anything, that reveals that making a quality film and being able to speak engagingly over it are two very different things.

In between bookending general remarks, "The Making of Animal Kingdom" (15:28) devotes a couple of minutes to each leading character and the actor playing it, with valuable cast & crew interviews, screen tests, and some behind-the-scenes footage. (This is evidently a heavily abridged version of the Blu-ray's 71-minute documentary "Creating Animal Kingdom.)

After some red carpet sound bites, we then go inside Animal Kingdom's premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival (33:50) for introductory remarks from Michôd and then a post-screening Q & A session with him, actors Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville, and Sullivan Stapleton, and producer Liz Watts. Though it's a little rough and dry, and the sound quality isn't the best, this is a solid piece which adds making-of information not shared in the other featurette.

The extras conclude with Animal Kingdom's US theatrical trailer (2:03) and a still screen promoting the soundtrack.

"Previews" merely replays the promotional loop that opens the DVD: an ad for Sony Blu-ray and trailers for A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, Lebanon, The Illusionist, Another Year, and Get Low.

The main menu screen is scored but not animated. The rest are silent. There are no inserts.

Though pleasant enough here, eldest brother and ringleader Andrew "Pope" Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) is a bit of a sociopath in general. The loyalties of J (James Frecheville) are in question for his grandmother (Jacki Weaver) and uncles.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As someone who is not swayed by the vicarious thrills of crime fiction, I'm pleased to report that Animal Kingdom works remarkably well on account of its human drama. David Michôd's first feature merges technical competence with powerful ideas and complex characters. The result is gripping, atmospheric, and haunting. Very few of last year's films have moved me as much as this one.

Sony's DVD provides an excellent feature presentation but only a so-so supply of extras, the most satisfying of which is a brisk making-of featurette. While that may limit the value of this disc, the movie is nevertheless strong enough to recommend anyway.

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Reviewed January 17, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Sony Pictures Classics, Screen Australia, Porchlight Films, and 2011 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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