Animal Kingdom
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It often seems like if you’ve seen one crime drama, you’ve seen them all. Time after time, you’ll find the same characters, the same scenarios, the same standoffs with the cops. But writer/director David Michôd tries to tell the same old crime drama from a different point of view in Animal Kingdom.

When his mother dies of a heroin overdose, seventeen-year-old Josh “J” Cody (James Frecheville) is suddenly all alone. Shaken and afraid, he calls his estranged grandmother (Jacki Weaver), who’s quick to take him in. Now, J finds himself caught in the middle of a family of killers, crooks, and drug dealers, whose actions are under constant surveillance by the police.

Though he tries to get away, spending as much time as possible with his girlfriend, Nicole (Laura Wheelwright), J can’t escape his family—or their reputation. And as the tight-knit family begins to crumble, a determined detective (Guy Pearce) begins to focus his attention on the family’s youngest, weakest link.

J’s perspective gives Animal Kingdom an unexpected twist. Instead of following the cunning crooks—or the cops who are determined to put them away—Michôd focuses his attention (at least in the beginning of the film) on the innocent outsider. J isn’t a part of the story because he’s a hardened criminal; he’s there because he has nowhere else to go. And after being estranged from his mother’s family for most of his life, he doesn’t really understand what he’s getting himself into.

A quiet, naïve kid who’s caught in the middle of a family that’s spinning out of control, J often seems a bit bland, but he also gives the film heart and humanity. Most of the other characters, however, are the usual crime drama clichés: the paranoid crooks, the crooked cops, and the detective with a heart of gold. None of them are particularly well developed—and their actions often seem random and irrational.

The only other interesting character, then, is Jacki Weaver’s Janine, the matriarch of the Cody family. Though she seems like a sweet, defenseless mother who sits at home and worries about her sons, quietly hoping that they’ll be okay, there’s much more to her than you might initially expect.

Unfortunately, though, between the early part of the film, when J begins to observe his family, and the end of the film, when the focus turns to Janine, Animal Kingdom doesn’t really offer anything new or unexpected. The more interesting characters fade into the background while the usual clichés play out. Though the film tries to be thoughtful and understated, it’s simply too understated—and much of the audience might tune out somewhere in the middle.

Although Animal Kingdom offers a new perspective on an old genre, the truly gripping and thoughtful moments are pretty far between. So if you do see it, feel free to get up in the middle to refill your popcorn; you won’t miss much.

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