What was the last ‘great’ British crime thriller? It’s a difficult thought. The Americans used to monopolise the genre but in recent years the best that they can produce is fare like The Town which, at best, is a simple popcorn thriller. So it seems that it’s fallen to the ‘foreign’ territories to provide us with the most original and inventive crime movies in recent years. France brought us the glorious A Prophet, Argentina gave us The Secret In Their Eyes and, now, Australia brings us the excellent Animal Kingdom.
The film follows ‘J’ (who looks like a particularly blank faced Michael Carrick) as he goes to stay with his estranged crime lord family after the death of his druggie mother. Unlike other movies in the genre this does not prove to be the catalytic event; J is simply a bystander to events that would have happened with or without his involvement. This mainly revolves around a squeeze by the Armed Robbery Squad as they systematically decimate J’s new found family members. The film is particularly ruthless with the lives of its characters, so as a warning I would say don’t get too attached to anyone; there’s probably a gun waiting for them just off screen.
But this is not a violent movie. It has moments of violence like any crime movie, but these tend to be muted Die Hard-esque blood splatters rather than graphic depictions of death. This movie is as much about family life as The Kids Are All Right or Winter’s Bone. Jacki Weaver’s Oscar nominated performance is outstanding, as is Ben Mendelsohn’s as the psychotic uncle who divides the clan. Guy Pearce, as the sympathetic policeman, feels a little unwritten but, as always, he brings an ambiguity to a moral central role. Pieced together the movie is eminently watchable, even as J begins to lose track of his allegiances towards the end of the movie, and instantly memorable.
A modern day crime classic from a country that hasn’t had the strongest vintage in cinematic terms. Uncompromising but deeply affecting.