Animal Kingdom (2010)
Animal Kingdom is one of the most hard-hitting films of 2010, an Australian crime story set in Melbourne about how the young protagonist J becomes part of the notorious Cody family consisting of his three uncles and their mother. The uncles are armed robbers and drug dealers, the mother their loving guardian matriarch. The film's title refers to the predatory environment it depicts, an environment where 'survival of the fittest' becomes 'survival of the most brute', with the corrupt police force shown as representing the same uncivilzed modus operandi.
This is how young writer/director David Michôd delivers bits of subtle, implicit social criticism, but his main objective is storytelling and character portraits. And through flair and good craftsmanship, he is able to give his film an electric sense of tension, shooting smouldering scenes accompanied by an aptly intensifying sound track by Antony Partos, as the Cody family spiral towards self-destruction.
Michôd also gets great performances from a very talented ensemble, especially Ben Mendelsohn as the oldest brother/uncle, Jacki Weaver as the mother/grandmother, and James Frecheville as J. Their ever-present ambiguity is highly effective. You feel there is so much going on under the surface of these characters that they seem capable of bursting at any moment, and Michôd reaps the rewards brilliantly towards the end, when the equilibrium of power ostensibly shifts from one scene to the next. The suspense is almost tangible, highlighting one of the most unnerving modern mobster movies in a while.