This debut feature from Aussie filmmaker David Michôd opens with Melbourne high-schooler Josh Cody (James Frecheville) finding his junkie mother dead from an drug overdose. After he moves in with his estranged Grandma (Jacki Weaver), we discover that the late Mom was probably the sanest member of the Cody clan. Her siblings are high-stakes criminals, currently targeted by a death squad of renegade cops, who are frustrated at not being able to make any charges stick. (Guy Pearce shows up for a while, as the one good cop.)
The leader of the gang is the unstable and self-destructive Pope Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), who always reacts in the way most likely to boomerang. Even though Josh is family, he’s still a stranger; paradoxically, the more he helps out his uncles in their schemes, the less they trust him.
“Animal Kingdom” is all very grim and unrelenting; Michôd generates some nail-biting suspense, though it’s not the sort of experience that many people are likely to enjoy. Grade: B (Rated R for violence, drug content, and pervasive language.)
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