Animal Kingdom is an interesting beast. It tells the story of Josh who, after his mother’s death, finds himself drawn into his crime-ridden extended family, and the film seems to serve as an exploration of the effect a criminal lifestyle can have on the young.
Australian newcomer, James Frecheville, plays Josh as a dull-eyed charisma-vacuum - intentionally or not, I can’t decide – which often makes the film quite difficult to watch, because he always seems so uninterested by everything around him.
But, Frecheville excluded, the rest of the cast are fantastic. Both the big names - Joel Edgerton and Guy Pearce - and the lesser-known Australians really ground their characters in the gritty world the film inhabits. And, ironically, their greatness may be the reason Frecheville's performance is so jarring.
It’s a shame, because the film deals with some really interesting issues. However, there are some that could have been explored in even greater depth, especially the movies sexual politics. There are three main female figures in the film; Josh’s mother (who dies in the first few minutes), Josh's girlfriend (who is led on, lied to and generally treated awfully) and then there’s Josh's grandmother, the most interesting of the three. For the majority of the film, she seems to be the all-powerful matriarch, but in a tragic turn of events we see her for the weak and ultimately power-less figure she is. At the start of the film, she is regularly seen asking her many sons to give her a kiss; at this point, these strange, and surprisingly lustful, requests seem to reinforce her hold over the family and almost seem like some kind of mafioso gesture of dominance. Later on, however, they are instead viewed as a mother’s desperate attempt to be loved and, ultimately, accepted by the men in her family.
As far as I'm aware, David Michôd (director) chose the name ‘Animal Kingdom’ in reference to the parallels he draws between animals in the wild and the crime-family unit. In the end, that comparison works because Animal Kingdom is full of promise, but, in reality, is really rather dull.