Australian movies have been pretty poorly served by UK distributors in the past ten years or so; if directors from Down Under have made a few films of the quality of Animal Kingdom (2010) in that time then we’ve really been missing out. From its opening sequence, this family/crime melodrama oozes assurance. It’s a brilliant, distinctive piece of work, and a great debut for director David Michôd. The focus is on a 17-year-old boy, Josh (superb newcomer James Frecheville), a rather diffident young man who, following the death of his mother from a heroin overdose, moves in with his hitherto-estranged family, which consists of his Grandmother (Jacki Weaver) and her brood of criminally inclined sons. Josh fits in well at first, but the return to the fold of the volatile eldest son Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) soon complicates matters, leading to an act of revenge against the police that ends up placing our hero in a serious moral quagmire.
Michôd is as sure-footed on the day-to-day details of domestic family life as on the criminal elements, and the movie excels in atmosphere, with superb use of the Melbourne locations, both urban and suburban. What isn’t shown is as important as what is: the movie sometimes places the emphasis in unexpected places while eliding conventional "key" scenes. The acting is first-rate: with top honours going to the always-expert Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce as the homicide detective keen to get Josh on the police’s side, and to Weaver whose brilliant performance as the family matriarch combines easy-going charm with steely practicality and a touch or two of perversity. Stylish and gripping throughout, this taut and thoroughly involving drama marks Michôd out as a major talent to watch.