The boy on the left is J. He’s seventeen, but could pass for twenty three. Early on, he flutters his fingers beneath an automatic dryer. He feels no gust. This doesn’t surprise him. He’s always been invisible. The man on the right is Leckie. He’s a cop who won’t raise his voice in the interrogation room. Why should he? He has the keys to the cuffs. He’s played by Guy Pierce, an actor whose memory was famously erased by Christopher Nolan. This time out, he’s certain of his history, but try as you might, you won’t pry it from his emotionless eyes or plastic smile.
‘Animal Kingdom” concerns the present. Past glories grant no quarter. Even worse, guilt by association is the way of the world. You see, J never did anything wrong. He was born into terrible circumstances. Not poverty or war, but an amoral wasp’s nest of a family. The film opens to the drone of “Deal or No Deal”. J and his mother sit motionless. It isn’t until the paramedics rush by that we learn she’s done her final dose. Now it’s his turn to fend for himself amongst his kith and kin. Chief among them is Uncle Pope. He’s a peerless sociopath. Frank Booth in Tommy Bahama. He heads the family’s banking business, but they’ve made too many unauthorized withdrawals. Their free wheeling days are dwindling.
Be it his neanderthal brow or his self-conscious reserve, J is pinned as one of the weak ones. He’s seen as the crack in the family’s airtight veneer. David Michôd’s Sundance award winning debut concerns his metamorphosis from cowering outsider to. . .? For anyone who’s seen the director’s previous short films, this is an obvious evolution. His primary concern appears to be the clinical observation of young males who find themselves thrust into circumstances that require coping skills well beyond their maturity level. He doesn’t judge or point fingers. He merely places the dominoes.
Do keep in mind that a 98% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes does not suggest this film is superior to all but your favorites. It is an indication that the vast majority of critics found it better than average. And it is just that. Please go into it with reasonable expectations. But above all, remember these mantras from Raf Simons’ Spring 2002 collection:
WOE UNTO THOSE WHO SPIT ON THE FEAR GENERATION.
THE WIND WILL BLOW IT BACK.
SCIENCE, NOT RACE, NOT FAMILY, NOT CLASS, MADE ME INTO. . .
Animal Kingdom is available on DVD in Chicago from Netflix and Facets.