A Critical Review of David Michod’s Animal Kingdom (2010)
In our everyday lives, most of us do not spend too much time thinking about organized crime or the people who are actively involved in this very distinct lifestyle. This is the theme that is explored in David Michod’s Animal Kingdom (2010), but director who made his directorial debut with this film adds a different twist. Michod’s film is an exploration of how normal society is pervaded by the criminal world, and how our daily lives continuously come in contact with the criminal world but we never seem to notice. Critics went quite frantic over David’s Michod’s crime family drama but the purpose of this paper is to balance their exaggerations by critically analyzing the film.
Animal Kingdom tells the story of Joshua ‘J’ Cody, who is abruptly left on his own when his mother dies and has no other choice but to turn to his grandmother, although he has been estranged from her. Joshua discovers why his grandmother and her four sons, Baz, Pope, Darren and Craig, are actually organized criminals, operating from their Melbourne home. Baz, who was the voice of reason of the family, is murdered and Pope becomes leader of the family’s criminal activities. The family suspects that Joshua murdered Baz and they move him out of the house. Nathan Leckie, a police detective, after learning that Joshua is related to the Cody family, tries to persuade him to send them to prison. This leaves Joshua very confused whether he should be loyal to his estranged family, or do the right thing by helping put these criminals behind bars.
The many themes that are depicted in Animal Kingdom are astonishingly thought out. For instance, the contrast Between Joshua’s family and the family of his girlfriend is extreme. This shows the viewers how different Joshua is from his own family and how well he would fit into his girlfriend’s family. The scenes that viewers see in the Cody family home may persuade them that their behavior is acceptable and anything but normal, but the lifestyle of Joshua’s girlfriend’s family reveals the obvious, that Joshua’s family are criminals and that they are wrong.
Another interesting theme in this film is the role Smurf, the mother of the boys, since they do not seem to have a father and perhaps this is why they all turned out to be criminals. Since they have no father, they respect their mother as if she is. This not only makes her the head of the family but also the leader of their criminal syndicate. All of Smurf’s sons absolutely respect her and do their best to avoid hurting her. Smurf seems to be in complete control of everything in the household and Joshua does not seem to be used to this.
Animal Kingdom contains some very typical thriller elements, however, the lighting used in the film contrasts with the dim lighting that is used in many thrillers. Since most of the film takes place in the family house, so bright, non-ambient lighting has been used. Also, most of the film takes place during the day, which is perhaps another reason that bright lighting was chosen by Michod over dim lighting. Moreover, the brightness may also help the viewers relate with the characters and the settings.
Even the locations in Animal Kingdom are typical to those seen in the thriller genre. The streets in the film are usually dimly lit and wide open spaces are frequently seen. All of this may give the viewers a sense of danger and isolation, as if there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The location that is seen the most frequently in the film is the family home, something which is not common in thriller films. This shows the viewers that everyone in the family is corrupt and none of them are trustable. Again, the location of the family home further allows viewers to relate to the characters since on the exterior it is like any of the homes we see every day, perhaps even our own.
Unlike mainstream Hollywood films, Animal Kingdom is quite unique because Michod chose to cast amateur actors who are not that popular. This allows the viewers to further relate to the characters and makes their acting more genuine. Another thing that augments the realism of this film is that no extremely elaborate CGI or special effects have been used in the film. When watching this film, viewers feel as if they are peering into the life of the Cody family rather than watching a film. The disappointing thing about many Hollywood films is that their plots are usually very thin and they are extremely visual. This film is very visual too, but the plot is also very exceptional with unexpected twists and turns, which makes it tricky to anticipate what might happen next.
Animal Kingdom contains some very splendid scenes that are a reflection of the thriller genre. For instance, Joshua’s mentally unbalanced uncle is shot when he runs amidst the outback. This scene reflects the wild animalistic nature of the Smurf’s four boys, who are the ones who shoot him. A more captivating scene is seen at the end of the film when Joshua shoots Pope, signifying that he has unknowingly over thrown the one at the top of the food chain. Scenes such as these ones are a reflection of the film’s title, since in the Animal Kingdom only the fittest survive, and those who are a part of a pack have higher chances of survival. Thus, Joshua becomes a part of Smurf’s criminal family.
Bradshaw, Peter. "Animal Kingdom – review."guardian.co.uk. The Guardian, 24 2011. Web. 11 Dec 2012.
Holden, Stephen. "Animal Kingdom (2010)." nytimes.com. The New York Times, 12 2010. Web. 11 Dec 2012.
Michôd, David, dir. Animal Kingdom. 2010. Film. 11 Dec 2012.
"Animal Kingdom Synopsis." fandango.com. Fandango. Web. 11 Dec 2012.