Oscar Profile: Animal Kingdom

by Tom Ingram

Animal Kingdom doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. As a drama about a teenager being pulled against his will into a life of crime, it’s not exactly beating out a new path. There are two ways this kind of movie can go: either the hero turns away from crime, or he doesn’t. Neither one is a particularly original ending, but short of an alien invasion in the third act, it’s an inescapable choice.

This movie flipflops spastically between the two in a frustrating will-he-or-won’t-he display that fizzles out to a disappointing ending. Its answer to the inexorable question of whether or not the hero will redeem himself is a resounding “sort of”.

The main character is Joshua Cody who, at the beginning of the film, shrugs off his mother’s death nonchalantly. It turns out that this is just how he acts–either his character is meant to be preternaturally subdued, or the actor has less of a stage presence than I do. J immediately calls up his estranged grandmother who, as it turns out, is the matriarch of a crime family.

The family gets into a feud with the police, and J feels torn between familial duty and basic human decency. After he unwittingly participates in a cop killing by stealing a car for his uncles to use, he feels guilty and talks to the police. Then he changes his mind. Then he does it again, and again, and again. Then he says, “screw it, it’s been about two hours”, shoots one of his uncles, and ends the movie.

Don’t get me wrong, Animal Kingdom is very well made. The acting overall is very good, even if J is a little bit of a traffic cone. The music is excellent, and the script, if a little trite, unmemorable, and wobbly, works. It’s not a bad film, as such, but it’s not a surprise it was hardly nominated for anything.

Nominations

The only nod Animal Kingdom has is Best Supporting Actress for Jacki Weaver as J’s grandmother. That was an excellent bit of work. She captures the character’s flighty, senile nature while revealing just a hint here and there of the vicious killer she really is. Around her a hardened criminal will turn into a man-child, and she reveals the truth about them: these are not smart people. These are not good people. These are not particularly mature people. They’re like children, but with worse impulse control.

I’m tentatively leaning toward Weaver to win this Oscar. The movie was hit and miss, but that was she was one of the consistent things about it. Her scenes were sublime.

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