Saturday, December 18, 2010

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You Did an All Right Job, Sweetie

Have you ever seen something that you knew was working, like a movie? The performances were fine, the movie was put-together fine, everything was well-done, but you just didn't care? That kind of happened to me yesterday with Animal Kingdom.

I finally saw it after hearing so much about Jacki Weaver's performance. And she's great, though I feel she lays it on a little thick in her "bad momma" scenes. Still, I understand the buzz around her, and for the most part, she plays the role of Janine Cody pretty well, with only her eyes expressing the ruthlessness behind her hugs and terms of endearment. Guy Pearce turns in solid work as the cop wanting to bring in Janine's criminal sons, determined but tired as he closes in on the gang. Joel Edgerton and Sullivan Stapleton were my favorites of the brothers, both believable as the quiet, level-headed one and the manic one, respectively.

Newcomer James Frecheville plays the nephew, the protagonist, a guy with a girl who watches and sometimes takes part in the gang's activities; Ben Mendelsohn plays the quietest and craziest one of the bunch. The two appear to be having a blank expression contest, but for different purposes. Frecheville's is an observer, and his blank expression helps him remain unreadable. Mendelsohn's, meanwhile, is more in line with Donald Pleasance's description of Michael Myers: "This blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes... the devil's eyes." Overall, some fine performances.

Not bad at all...
It's all well-directed, too, a slow burn. David Michod plays fair, makes three-dimensional characters, tracks everything consistently through the lens of both Frecheville's character and the family drama that's at play. Everybody gets their own moment that begs for more screentime (such as Susan Prior as the mother of Frecheville's girlfriend). There's a fascinating frame of Frecheville at the very beginning when he first calls Weaver's character. And Antony Partos' score is probably one of the best of the year. This all sounds A-grade, right?

I'd give it more of a B, though, because I just didn't connect emotionally. Maybe it was the time of day, maybe it was the abundance of slo-mo following each death (crime film, surely that's no surprise), maybe it was the slow burn of it all. But something kept me from completely latching onto the film, especially in the last fifteen minutes. The last section seemed like too much for too long, and I felt myself becoming a little irritated with Mendelsohn's calculated "I'm a psychotic!" performance. Not enough people give credit to the hamminess of underplaying, but it happens, and this is one of those. It bothered me.

Whatever the reason, I wish it wasn't so. I hear all this praise for the film, and it's certainly warranted...but I'm more "Oh, that was nice" about it, before moving on. I'd see it again, but I could probably get some laundry done during.


Andrew K. said...

Although I liked this quite much, I loved the review because you mention so many things I've thought of. Jackie is fine, but the fact that she's getting the film's only citation. THANK YOU for mentioning Edgerton and Stapleton, who along with Frecheville kind of run off with the film. (Wasn't too fond of Mendelsohn, at times he seemed unnecessarily histrionic).

Oh, Walter - that final line slayed me.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I'm glad you're with me on Mendelsohn. He won Best Lead Actor at the Australian Film Institute Awards and I just. Don't. Get it.

Anonymous said...

I think Animal Kingdom's watching a gangster family in decline, or more yet, kicking someone when they're down. I guess the emotional resonance isn't there because the arc from decline to decline doesn't feel as dramatic.

Jacki Weaver's very very capable in her role, but now I realize that when her 'scene' came up, I had to make a mental note and say 'This is the scene,' as if underwhelmed by it.