Writer-director David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Festival, is an involving, rangy and sneakily ambitious crime drama that pulses with a low hum of menace. Unfolding against an unfussy, decidedly non-glamorous criminal backdrop of modern-day Melbourne, the movie has intriguing characters and a broad canvas, like it could easily be spun off into a miniseries or TV serial.
When his junkie mom dies of an overdose, teenager Joshua (James Frecheville) gets taken in by his doting grandmother (Jacki Weaver), which would seem to be a good thing. Problem is, she’s den mother to a cabal of ne’er-do-wells, whose armed bank robberies have made them marked men by cops, some of whom play by the rules and some of whom have no qualms with vigilante justice. As one officer (Guy Pearce) tries to flip Joshua and make him a source, shocking twists and turns ensue.
Frecheville believably exudes naivety, and is a great anchor for Animal Kingdom, but Michôd smartly trades in organic rather than artificial thrills, making a movie about the legacy of violence that doesn’t often indulge in it. The result gets its hooks into an audience slowly. For Los Angelenos, a double-feature playdate at the New Beverly with fellow Aussie crime drama The Square most certainly awaits. For more information, click here. (Sony Classics, R, 112 minutes)