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Welcome to the terrifying Melbourne crime underworld, where tensions are on the brink of exploding between felons and renegade cops. The Cody brothers, a gang of armed robbers, are initiating their nephew Joshua 'J' into their frightening world after the death of his mother and under the watchful eye of his matriarchal grandmother, Smurf, who seems to be pulling the strings. Pope, the oldest brother, tries unsuccessfully to come to terms with the fact that his partner, Barry 'Baz' Brown, wants out of the game. Craig, the middle brother, deals and does cocaine while youngest brother Darren is fighting with his conscience. J quickly comes to believe that he is a player in this world, but soon discovers that the entire situation is far larger and more menacing than he could ever imagine and must determine how the game is played and choose his place in this brutal animal kingdom.
For more about Animal Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom Blu-ray release, see Animal Kingdom Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on January 18, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn (I), Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver
Director: David Michôd
» See full cast & crew
Animal Kingdom Blu-ray Review
A brilliantly dark and downtrodden look at lives in crime.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, January 18, 2011
Crooks always come undone. Always. One way or another.
What does "family" really mean? A difficult question for some, a simple one for others, but when money, crime, violence, and death are the norm within the familial structure, what comes to be most important? Is it blood, or is it something that's manufactured, something from the life of crime that overtakes the senses and overwhelms the traditional safety and security and love of family and replaces it with the greed and immorality that have, generally for the betterment of the bank account but to the detriment of the soul, come to hold more importance than even kinship? Animal Kingdom is an outstanding Australian Crime Drama that looks at the world of a small-time crime family that begins to crumble under the weight of the wrongdoings and the pursuit of the law. A thematically dark and visually gritty picture, Animal Kingdom is a powerful experience that's oftentimes difficult to watch as its complex characters maneuver to protect themselves and their criminal enterprises that have become thicker and more important than even the bonds of blood. An uneasy movie made all the more so by a gritty texture and dark characters, the film's unmistakable façade of violence is always accompanied by a subtext of fear; "they were all scared, even if they didn't show it."
His protective mother dead of a drug overdose, teenager Joshua "J" Cody (James Frecheville) has no choice but to cozy up to the very people from whom his mother so desperately wanted to shield her son. J contacts his grandmother, Janine "Smurf" Cody (Jacki Weaver), and she's all too happy to take her grandson in. J is immediately thrust into the middle of the family business: crime. Smurf's three sons -- J's uncles -- are all in some way connected to the local criminal scene. The eldest, Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), is a hardened armed robber who works with his best friend, Barry 'Baz' Brown (Joel Edgerton), who wants to get out of the crime business and settle down with a family and make his money in the stock market. The middle son, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), runs drugs, and the youngest, Darren (Luke Ford) -- only a few years J's senior and once his best friend growing up -- finds himself playing a supportive role in his brothers' criminal activities. J tries to keep to himself and start a new life; he falls for a local girl (Laura Wheelwright) but he soon discovers that living with criminals means he himself must live like a criminal. After Pope's partner Baz is gunned down, the family seeks revenge on the police, and they force J to play a part in the retaliation. As J's life spirals out of control, he becomes a person of interest in the police investigation of the killings and the Cody family, an investigation spearheaded by a local detective named Leckie (Guy Pearce). As the family is torn apart by the life they lead and the death that chases their every breath, J must choose to his path and decide if he can play a part in a life neither he nor his late mother wanted.
A compelling saga of a crime family's downward spiral towards oblivion, Animal Kingdom is a powerful glimpse into the world of lawlessness that implodes from the inside out. A film about deteriorating lives on both physical and psychological levels, Director David Michôd's Animal Kingdom is an emotionally brutal and visually dreary picture that's a success not for the story it tells but for the way it tells its story. Animal Kingdom doesn't merely paint a picture; it surrounds the audience and thrusts them into a completely convincing world of crime whereby the viewer feels like a member of the family, experiences the rush of the kill or the adrenaline of the crime, endures the losses on both sides of the law, and bears the agony of being on the wrong end of the pursuit of those who seek justice. Animal Kingdom just feels right, a movie that surrounds its audience with the dingy, dirty world of crime and never allows viewers to escape its clutches; few movies are as good at captivating its audience as this, and it makes them part of the Cody family whether they want to be or not. The picture is a personal one with no heroes and no villains, really; wrongdoing is a way of life, guilt is a luxury that can't be afforded, and trust is something that's never fully earned -- even through the bonds of family.
Animal Kingdom's thematic unease is offset by a confident and competent structure and sure-handed direction that works in perfect conjunction with the story to create a complete motion picture experience. David Michôd sets a wonderfully curious tone from the outset that frames the entire movie within a particular context and allows the developments -- from the first minutes to the chilling final shot -- to work from a psychological perspective where the film excels and plays its strongest hand. The picture's main character, "J," sits beside his dead mother as the film opens, she a drug overdose victim; J shows no emotion and seems transfixed by the game show on television rather than lamenting his loss or even concerned with the fact that's sitting next to the body of the woman who brought him into the world, the scene demonstrating the character's seemingly unbreakable stoicism that's come to define his life but that will be challenged as he integrates into his new family and a world of crime. It makes one of the film's pivotal turning points later in the story all the more heart-wrenching as "J" finally finds -- and loses -- his only escape from the world in which he's lived and comes to understand that his new life with the Cody's is one he cannot sustain or support. James Frecheville is superb in the lead role; his effort as "J" is one that's quiet, solemn, and contemplative as he struggles to find his place in the world and come to terms with the life into which he's been thrust. The supporting cast is fantastic as well; Guy Pearce turns in his usually brilliant effort, but Jacki Weaver steals the show as the family matriarch who's as inwardly cold and calculating as she is outwardly loving and calm. Weaver's performance was recently honored with a Golden Globe nomination.
Animal Kingdom Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sony Pictures Classics brings Animal Kingdom to Blu-ray with a wonderful 1080p transfer, no surprise given the studio's track record. The film's gritty texture is wonderfully preserved; a thick layer of grain is retained over a nicely detailed but slightly dulled image, presenting not only a sometimes breathtaking filmic appearance but supporting Animal Kingdom's themes and emotions quite well. Indeed, fine detail excels even through the gritty texture; the usual suspects -- clothes, faces, and the like -- offer crisp, sharp details that bring this moving image to life. Colors are handled quite well even if they're a bit muted in an effort to further enhance the picture's overall tone. Black levels are fantastic throughout, every dark corner home to inky and accurate blacks that never appear gray or, on the other end of the spectrum, too dark and overwhelming of fine detail. Flesh tones, too, are presented with an accurate shading. Only a hint of aliasing and a few minor pops and scratches mar an otherwise perfect transfer from Sony.
Animal Kingdom Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Animal Kingdom's DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack isn't a show-stopper, but then again the film's sound design isn't as flamboyant as some others. Sony's audio presentation plays music with an honest amount of clarity across the front; rich and room-filling notes flow with regularity, whether instrumental music or a fine rendition of Air Supply's "All Out of Love" that's heard at one point. The low end is well-integrated into both music and sound effects; it's not a rattle-the-floorboards type of presentation, but listeners will certainly feel the power of a few shotgun blasts heard at one point in the film, which are played with a stunning true-to-life heavy, thudding sensation. Atmospherics are handled mostly across the front with the backs only occasionally chiming in. Animal Kingdom's track isn't a game-changer, but it's a solid all-around presentation that represents the film and its entire soundtrack nicely.
Animal Kingdom Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Animal Kingdom lacks a lengthy supplemental section, but it does feature a solid all-around making-of documentary as well as an audio commentary track with Director David Michôd.
Animal Kingdom Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Animal Kingdom isn't just good at relaying a story; it tells a story in such a way that it completely engulfs its audience into the world of small-time crime and the consequences thereof, consequences that don't just mean personal gain or tragic loss, but the death of something far greater: a family. Fantastic direction and splendid acting are on display throughout one of 2010's darkest and best foreign films. Typical of a Sony Pictures Classics new release, Animal Kingdom offers a phenomenal 1080p transfer, a quality lossless soundtrack, and a few good extras. Highly recommended.
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Animal Kingdom Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Animal Kingdom Blu-ray Announced - November 9, 2010
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced Animal Kingdom for Blu-ray release on January 18, 2011. Not to be mistaken with a nature documentary, this crime drama about "an innocent caught up in Australia's underworld" won the Award for World Cinema (Dramatic) ...
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