‘Animal Kingdom’ has got bite

Animal Kingdom is easily one of the most vicious films I’ve seen in recent years. But what’s most compelling about the Australian import is that, at the time, it remains completely unknown. If you’ve seen a trailer, you’re given a glimpse into what the movie holds, but nothing could have really prepared for me for the emotional weight and graphic intensity that unfolds in the movie’s hour and 50-some minute running time.

What the film has going for it is the territory that’s been covered before. I mean, a crime syndicate family, while interesting to watch, isn’t the most original idea. this shouldn’t be seen as a negative, because it helps the film pace itself. In a pre-defined genre, the movies that follow don’t have to take the time to establish the rules or conventions of the style of film, and Animal Kingdom certainly doesn’t bother. It starts off in the middle of the action, throwing the audience and the protagonist into an unfamiliar situation, and establishing some sort of history as the movie sees fit. It starts off at a breakneck speed and slows down every so often, only to let the audience catch up, before sprinting ahead again. Really, what is at work here is an impressive use of pacing, a long-forgotten art in the world of movies. Animal Kingdom never seems too fast or too slow or even unsure of its footing. It exudes a certain confidence and primal instinct in the way that the story unfolds.

However, it’s safe to say that not every movie could get away with this type of storytelling. It’s with the help of the impressive cast of Animal Kingdom that makes the film feel so effortless. The cast shows such range within this one movie. i think that’s part of what makes these characters so fascinating is that, we never see them as one-dimensional. In most American-made movies, there’s a highly moralistic tone to the character development. As audiences, we expect to see some sort of flaw in both their professional life <i.and their personal life. Animal Kingdom does that to some extent, but it shows that there are shades of gray that accompany a life of crime. Even though it may be wrong to act the way that many of these characters do, the movie doesn’t shy away from presenting them with coherent logic and reasoning to explain why they do it anyway. Part of Animal Kingdom‘s brutality is establishing their characters fully, with no regards for the audience’s own personal or moral beliefs.

In a movie that could have easily dissolved into a morality tale, Animal Kingdom doesn’t seem entirely comfortable treading that territory. Certainly it gives us a protagonist that we’re supposed to identify with the most, especially as we see all these acts of depravity and violence around him, but he’s not characterized as perfect either. The fact of the matter is Animal Kingdom clearly views us all as just that, animals. At first, the concept seems a little heavy-handed, but as J’s world dissolves into various shades of gray, moral certainty is called into question. “Who’s right?” and “Who’s wrong?” become questions of necessity that the film doesn’t always answer for us, especially in the film’s conclusion.

Animal Kingdom explores the questionable activities of a family of criminals in 1980s Australia. While the film had plenty of guidelines for how to behave, Animal Kingdom shocks by quietly acknowledging its forefathers without re-hashing the same elements. As the story unfolds, the talents of the actors and actresses, including Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver, are on full display as the movie falls into chaos. Morality, ethics, and allegiances are all put into question by the film’s end, with no clear answers to the questions put forth. What results is a complex, violent yet somehow understated character study of a family unit in despair as their worlds become undone.

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