Animal Kingdom’ thrills with kills

Placing a children’s combo of snacks in my lap, I settled in as the projector clicked on the movie. By the end credits, the empty snack containers were on the ground, having been jettisoned from my person via the reactions to the film’s many surprises. “Animal Kingdom” is an Australian crime film loosely based on the Pettingill family and their involvement in the 1988 Walsh Street Police Shootings in Melbourne, Australia — intelligently written and directed by David Michôd, and very well-acted, for the most part. At the beginning we are introduced to aloof and helpless Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville), who is taken in by his estranged grandmother and uncles. However, his new family consists of a drug dealer, a fugitive and a rookie robber all led by Barry “Baz” Brown (Joel Edgerton) and watched over by their matriarch, Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver). They take a liking to J and induct him into their surprisingly loving family unit, with Barry acting as the father. The return of their fugitive relation, Andrew “Pope” Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), brings a frightening and uneasily comical character into the film. Working with the title’s theme, the primal dangers of the Codys’ criminal world quickly work to divide everyone into predator and prey. J’s life is rocked again as one of the film’s first shocks sets into motion violent standoffs between the Codys and the police, particularly homicide detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce). A scared J is presented with the decision of cooperation between his family and the law, when he is unsure if he can trust either. This film is one of subtlety and thoughtfulness, with big payoffs from long intervals of suspense. However, you shouldn’t go in expecting “Boondock Saints,” shoot-em’-up kind of payoffs, as many scenes chillingly portray the Machiavellian calculations of these dangerous figures. That being said, this film also has an unfortunate fault. J is a robot and uninteresting compared to the array of deep, unpredictable characters. This may be because of his age, but after a while his portrayal of a confused teenager gets into “Twilight” territory where it just looks like he forgot his lines. This coupled with a poorly handled subplot that includes his equally bland girlfriend damages an otherwise good film. A compelling, twisting story and haunting 1970’s pop soundtrack make “Animal Kingdom” a unique foreign thriller.