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 electrical 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, introverted 17-year-old 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, a series of 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 is something that works its hooks into an audience slowly, and feels like it could be compellingly adapted into a recurring small screen serial, actually. For Los Angelenos, one thing certainly awaits — a double-feature playdate at the New Beverly with fellow Aussie crime drama The Square. Other audiences will have to settle for discovering this little gem on the small screen.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Animal Kingdom comes to DVD presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio, via a transfer absent any significant grain, edge enhancement or major flaws. Audio consists of English, Spanish and Portuguese language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound tracks, with complementary subtitles. Bonus features are anchored by a nice feature-length audio commentary track with Michôd, as well as a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a soundtrack promotional spot and a half-hour-plus Q&A with the filmmaker and two of his stars, Frecheville and Weaver. Allegedly exclusive to the Blu-ray, for what it’s worth, is a separate hour-long featurette on the making of the movie. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. A- (Movie) B- (Disc)