Thursday, 7 July 2011

Animal Kingdom - DVD review

Lauded upon its cinematic release in the early weeks of this year, David Michod's debut feature Animal Kingdom is released on the 11th July on DVD and Blu-Ray from Optimum releasing.

Michod's epic feature tells the story of fictional family the Cody family, a rag-tag of differing brothers in terms of personalities and personas, who have had a successful run in bank robbing in the urban milieu of Melbourne.

Interestingly, the first character we see (and to whom we will follow throughout the narrative) is Joshua, later christened J, who is an outsider to this group even though he is related.  Joshua has moved in owing to the death of his mother from an overdose.  And so the Codys attempt to fit him into the mould of themselves, a fresh pair of legs for the fight.  Overseeing all of the boys is their mother, who may be the most evil of the lot Janine Cody, played with chilling presence by Jacqui Weaver (who was Oscar nominated for her portrayal).

The most potent member of the group is Pope Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) who plays the family of one another, and deals with the corrupt cops.  Once things take a turn for the worse, Pope decides to take revenge against the police force.   Added to the mix is the one honest police officer, Det. Nathan Leckie (played by Guy Pearce) who sees the innocence in J and attempts to get him to testify against his brothers.

The familiar tropes of gangster genre are evident here; people looking out for themselves, the manipulation of others, ulterior motives, the use of violence to problem solve, the lack of periphery female characters, whilst the one present woman Janine, is more memorable and problematic than the men.  But as always with crime families the idea of mortality and law is second to blood running thicker than water.  Janine loves her boys, all our career criminals so will not have a bad word said against them, and will defend them to the end.

Michod interestingly twists the narrative structure, by using the fact that they are career criminals against the construction of the character's identity focusing on the claustrophobia of being stuck indoors and hiding from the police, and making it clear that they are unable to do anything apart from break the law. 

Whilst indebted to The Wire in terms of constructing a portrait of criminal activity with heavy psychological undertones and elaborating on violence without pandering to intelligent viewers, Michod shoots with a keen eye for detail and uses the city of Melbourne as a character itself - bright exterior with suburbia looking good in the heat, but with a merky criminal underground taking place in the cold light of day.  He might be indebted to American influences such as Baltimore's finest and Scorsese's crime epics (most importantly Goodfellas) but you do get the impression that this is distinctly Antipodean about this production.

Featuring stunning performances uniformly from the cast, expertly shot and editing with a tantalising screenplay in harmony with his own confident directorial debut; Michod should be proud to have given this gift to the world, from half a world away.

The DVD extras include the obligatory making of documentary, trailers and interviews with the director and cast; how much a director's commentary would have been needed in this instance.

Available on DVD (£17.99RRP) and Blu-Ray (£22.99) from Optimum Releasing from Monday 11th July.

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