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In the Penal Colony

Animal Kingdom (2010)

Narelle Sheean/Sony Pictures Classics

An Australian drama about the fracturing of a crime family, “Animal Kingdom” won the world cinema jury prize and lavish praise from critics at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But honestly, the film is lame. It’s reminiscent of those duds that Bob Berney used to pick up for Newmarket (“Stander” comes immediately to mind) that are utterly unremarkable, yet seem to attract critical attention by virtue of being indie flicks about impoverished white folks speaking in tongues. (Given that Mr. Berney is currently in between jobs, Sony Classics has the distribution rights.)

The film follows J. (James Frecheville), whose mother’s death from a drug overdose prompts him to reconnect with his estranged grandmother (Jacki Weaver) and three deadbeat uncles. Although J.’s mother might seem irresponsible for having been a junkie, she actually did him a huge favor by keeping him away from her own family members. They are a bunch of low-life killers and crooks.

The film’s premise is ripe for psychoanalytical character study, but writer-director David Michôd is woefully inept when it comes to defining personality traits and motivations. The little we do know about the characters is clumsily spelled out in the dialogue. Otherwise, they all seem to suffer from interchangeable and nondescript mental illnesses and/or substance-abuse problems. There is little rhyme or reason behind any of their actions, and one can’t tell whether they are paranoid or just plain stupid.

To make up for the inarticulate characterizations, Mr. Michôd heavily relies on progressively outlandish plot developments to advance the story. There are many examples, but a detailed recap would spoil the film entirely. After a poorly thought-out and executed plan to avenge a death in the family, J. struggles with his conscience and familial obligations at the besetment of a cop (Guy Pearce, in yet another thankless supporting role). The outcome is satisfying if you’re one of those moviegoers who like things tied up at the end with a neat little bow, but how “Animal Kingdom” gets there just simply does not compute.


Opens on Aug. 13 in New York and Los Angeles.

Written and directed by David Michôd; director of photography, Adam Arkapaw; edited by Luke Doolan; music by Antony Partos; production designer, Jo Ford; costumes by Cappi Ireland; produced by Liz Watts; released by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Ben Mendelsohn (Pope Cody), Joel Edgerton (Baz Brown), Guy Pearce (Detective Senior Sgt. Nathan Leckie), Luke Ford (Darren Cody), Jacki Weaver (Smurf Cody), Sullivan Stapleton (Craig Cody) and James Frecheville (J Cody).


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