Animal Kingdom Blu-ray review

Out now on Blu-ray, Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom has already been heaped with praise. Here’s Joseph’s review of an excellently constructed film…

Under the thrall of Hollywood, it’s often easy to forget how a viewer’s cultural standpoint will affect their perception of a film. We have become conditioned to American filmmaking as the primary mode of cinema. For example, there’s very little to say about the uniquely British experience of watching a George Clooney film.

This is not just because we share so much history and culture with our American cousins. It’s a more complete cultural osmosis than that. As a contrast, consider another nation with whom we have strong historical ties. Australia has a burgeoning film scene of its own, but by contrast, Brits don’t know what to expect. There are no established guidelines to structure our viewing. In lieu of any rules, we’re left with nothing more than tired cliches of barbies on the beach.

For that reason, Animal Kingdom makes for refreshing viewing. Detailing the implosion of a Melbourne crime family, David Michôd’s debut feature is a studied crime drama with some dynamite performances. The story is told from the perspective of Jake (James Frecheville), nephew to the clan, who had been shielded from them by his now deceased mother.

Jake is very much the viewer’s analogue. His journey into the heart of the criminal underworld is echoed by our reactions. To begin with, there’s a frisson, then the warmth of acceptance, followed finally by the horror of the cesspit into which Jake has been absorbed.

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With Animal Kingdom, Frecheville makes his big screen debut. Either by dint of a savvy director or the actor’s natural intelligence, he is never stretched too far. It’s no problem, as his impassiveness perfectly fits the mould of a grieving 17-year-old. He executes his function perfectly, but as much credit should go to casting director Kirsty McGregor.

Most of the performing plaudits belong to Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce. Weaver plays Janine Cody, the matriarch of the family. No amount of doting can prevent her obvious wiles from poking out. She is the gardener who has cultivated this patch of rotten criminality, all the while presenting a facade of elegance, and is far and away the most complex character.

Guy Pearce is Animal Kingdom’s biggest star, so it’s no surprise to see him given high billing despite only a supporting role. Filling the freshly polished leather shoes of police investigator Nathan Leckie, Pearce has a grace which marks him out as an actor of high calibre. He effortlessly morphs into another character for Animal Kingdom and plays an important role. His interactions with Jake allow Michôd to leave the confines of the Cody family, providing a vital change of atmosphere.

Pearce is the one link British viewers will have with their usual film going exploits, but that spark of recognition isn’t necessary. There’s none of the cultural dissonance in Animal Kingdom that sometimes discourages regular movie fans from enjoying foreign cinema. Australia’s differences are relatable and the film feels very much like this young nation’s take on an established genre.

Watching the fumbling savagery of the Cody family brings to mind comparisons with Goodfellas or The Godfather. These are different films in most terms, but both Scorsese and Coppola’s movies dredge their stories from a culture that has a rich history of organized crime. The Corleone family are savage, but they have a dignity drawn from generations of tradition. It’s not until things unravel that the established mafia devolve into violent trial and error. Without a tradition of civility, the Aussie version starts life at this raw phase.

For that reason, Animal Kingdom is a more dynamic prospect than the established American crime drama. The potential for shocking behaviour is always closer to the surface, but the trade-off is a lack of depth. Every character, with the exception of Janine, wears their heart on their sleeve, and while each brother has his own personality, that means that each has his own way of being murderously fear inducing and little more.

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Sticking close to Jay keeps us grounded. Without his humanity at the centre of the narrative, it would be no more than well-acted reality TV. As it is, Michôd deserves credit for delivering a tightly constructed and well-managed drama. Especially as it reminds we Brits that our cousins from Down Under have far more to offer than barmen and rugby.

The disc

A paucity of extras is partially eased by an hour-long ‘making of’, featuring interviews with all the major players. Michôd spends a lot of the footage looking either depressed or bedraggled, but, despite his mental outlook, the footage presents an interesting look into how the film came together. Of particular interest is the relationship fostered between the actors playing the four brothers.

The 1080p transfer presents the sort of rich image that has become standard for the Blu-ray experience. There are no whizz-bang moments to really exorcise that crispness, but the film still benefits from the enhanced light and dark that the high definition format permits.


4 stars
3 stars


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You can rent or buy Animal Kingdom at

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4 out of 5