Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Case for Australian Animaniacs

I had wanted to go and see Animal Kingdom as part of the International Film Festival, but I suspected this Australian drama would come back as a general release – and I turned out to be right.

Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce and a bunch of other Australian elite actors whom I could recognise but not name, the film looked like a well acted but dark, drug fuelled version of Outrageous Fortune, but I was really not quite prepared for how bleak it actually turned out to be.

No one comes out looking particularly good – not the Victorian police, the locals, lawyers and especially not Guy Pearce with his criminal moustache. The film shows a corrupt and corrupting Australia far removed from the lucky country portrayed in the “well the he!! are you?” advertisements, and so it is possible that the film will be shown in countries that Australia does not want immigrants or tourists from. [However, I am not sure how successful a dissuasion policy that might be: the grim portrayal of Baltimore in the USA as a city of rampant death, destruction and drug use in shows such as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire has got me interested in visiting that city, albeit in a bullet proof vehicle. But I digress]

I don’t want to go too much into the plot, as there is not a huge amount to it and saying anything could ruin the tension, but suffice to say it shows the story of one family’s fight against misfortune, drug use and the law (so far, very Outrageous Fortune) with the added downers of mental illness and an almost complete absence of a sense of humour. James Frecheville is incredible as the dumb/smart J caught in the middle of his disintegrating family, though Jacki Weaver’s powerful turn as the family’s matriarch takes centre stage in the second part of the film. Ben Mendelsohn has been playing disturbingly intense for many years now, with the real revelation in both his and Guy Pearce’s amazing performances being the acceptance of their aging.

Now then, could I recommend this film? Not to everyone. While it does bear a superficial resemblance, comparing it with Outrageous Fortune does not really brace the viewer for the dark path this film treads. And in a way, considering the negativity that washes through the film and clings even once the end credits have rolled, I was happy to be able to say “that was Australia” once I walked out the door, and to close my eyes to any similarities that might occur in life in New Zealand.

Verdict: Powerful, disturbing, bleak. Animal Kingdom is all about survival of the fittest, and in this film the fit will survive by any means necessary. Powerful performances, strong Aussie accents and a horrendous moustache make this intense and disturbing viewing, and a really good film to boot. 8.5 species out of 10.

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