In a talented grouping of Oscar nominees for Best Supporting Actress, it’s the two ferocious mothers leading the race – “Animal Kingdom’s” Jacki Weaver, and “The Fighter’s” Melissa Leo. Both women are strong, independent characters who rule over their broods. Leo has already won both the Golden Globe and SAG Award, and most likely is the odds-on favorite for the Oscar. But let’s not overlook Jacki Weaver’s nuanced, sinister performance in “Animal Kingdom,” a film that won last year’s Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema at Sundance.
“Animal Kingdom,” the first feature from writer/director David Michod loosely depicts real world events in 1980’s Melbourne Australia, a city full of dangerous criminals and renegade detectives. After his mother dies of a heroin overdose, 17-year-old, Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville), moves in with his sunny, but sinister grandmother, Smurf Cody (Jacki Weaver) and her three law-breaking sons – armed robber Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), speed-addicted, drug-dealing Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and naïve, criminal pretty boy Darren (Luke Ford). It’s through J’s eyes we see how a tightly wound group of testosterone-fueled men can so easily and violently unravel.
Innocently caught between a murderous revenge rampage between his uncles and the police, J’s soul (and testimony) are fought for by an honest senior cop (Guy Pearce), who pointedly asks J, how will he fit into this world, this animal kingdom?
As the events unfold, the paranoia and the tensions within the family are excruciating. The film’s editor, Luke Doolan, reveals that “The pace we wanted was a very slow burn, almost a Polanski type of pace, where nothing overtly escalates, it just sort of builds and builds and builds sub-consciously and in an extremely tense way.”
But it’s Weaver’s sunny Smurf that is the most unnerving element in the film. Knowing that her remaining sons may be lost to life in prison, she jumps into the fray wielding her control like a criminal Lady Macbeth. Weaver relished her character’s complexity. “Smurf is a sociopath and psychopath. She’s all the more chilling because she appears to be quite normal – even sweet – with this immense affection for her boys. But sociopaths can be lovable one moment and monstrously cold and callous the next.” It’s no wonder that the Academy graced Weaver with a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
“You’ve done some bad things, sweetie,” Smurf tells a cop with a sweet menace that could kill. Luckily for us, Jacki Weaver’s performance is nothing but a good thing.
“Animal Kingdom” is available on DVD and Blu-ray thru Amazon and iTunes.
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