Animal Kingdom (2010)
Animal Kingdom is a tautly impressive crime drama, directed with unshowy power by David Michod and very well acted. Seventeen year-old J. (James Frecheville) has nowhere to go after the death of his mother but the home of his grandmother, Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch of one of Melbourne's top crime families. The Codys are at war with the Armed Robbery Squad who've taken to offing gang members vigilante-style. The man they really want, though, is Janine's eldest son Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), who responds to one of these killings by murdering two patrolmen in revenge. J. is implicated in this and is soon the target of the police, specifically Sgt Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce). What follows is an engrossing study of loyalty and ruthlessness, portraying the criminal world as a Darwinian eco-system of the strong and weak. Brought in for questioning J. is soon in a position where he can't trust the cops to protect him or his family not to kill him. Frecheville is impressive as the still centre of the film, Weaver icily chilling as Janine with Pearce quietly impressive as always. But it's Mendelsohn who steals the film, his Pope an unsettling presence not just for his unpredictable violence but also his predatory, passive-aggressive caring, belittling one minute, entrapping with fake intimacy the next, always probing for emotional weakness. It makes him one of recent cinemas more memorable and acutely-observed monsters.