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Sundance 2010 Review: ANIMAL KINGDOM - My Favorite Sundance Film

Written and Directed by: David Michôd

Starring: James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn (Knowing), Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton (King Arthur, Ned Kelly), and Luke Ford (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor)
 
Synopsis: Welcome to the jungle known as the Melbourne underworld. Pope Cody (Mendelsohn), an armed robber on the run from a gang of renegade detectives, is in hiding, surrounded by his roughneck friends and family. Soon, Pope’s nephew, Joshua "J" Cody (Frecheville), arrives and moves in with his hitherto-estranged relatives. When tensions between the family and the police reach a bloody peak, "J" finds himself at the center of a cold-blooded revenge plot that turns the family upside down.

Review:

A finely tuned piece of pure heart-pounding suspense, filled with a wide array of magnetic perfomaces. Animal Kingdom gives us a thorough look into a family of drug dealers and bank robbers, who have successfully eluded police. Hiding in plain sight with no prosecutable evidence against them, renegade cops take matters into their own hands, and the family does what it takes to protect themselves.

Though Pope looks to be the main focus of the story, J is really the central character. Frencheville gives a deliberately sodden performance, as his character is quite numb and seemingly unphased by his dangerous and seedy surroundings. He's caring, but easily influenced by, and loyal to, his family. The humor that the stoic and dead panned deliveries bring to the character, offers a much welcomed side of comic relief.

Mendelsohn on the other hand, gives by far the creepiest and most daring performance in the film. Playing the oldest of the brothers, Pope isn't as tough or nowhere near as cunning as his younger siblings -- which is why he's the closest to being nicked -- but what he lacks in tact he makes up for in crazy. A lot of crazy.

Ford and Edgerton, in the small amount of screen time they're given, help glue this film together and add a very human face to the criminals that they are. Edgerton is by far the most likable person in the film, and I'm sure we'll be seeing him in starring roles soon enough.

As the detective trying to bring the family down and use J as an informant, Guy Pearce is outstanding. He brings the kind of charisma and instant sense of experience and intelligence that you could easily see him fill the role of Lt. Gordon if Gary Oldman dropped out of the Batman films.

A smart and unforgiving look at the measures a family will take to protect one another, Animal Kingdom leaves you wide-eyed and on the edge of your seat. If you're a fan of The Departed, you're gonna eat this tale of survival and revenge up like it's cake on your birthday. This is a sick to your stomach thrill ride that surprises you in all the right ways.

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