A growled threat of violence at her own son for burning a batch of cupcakes is the introduction to Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody. Queen-bee matriarch of an extended criminal family, Smurf (a quite extraordinary Ellen Birkin) is devious, manipulative, ruthless, sensual, charming, smart. And with the overdose death of her estranged daughter, Smurf welcomes her 17 year-old grandson, J, into the family with open arms.
Based on the award-winning Australian film of the same name, Animal Kingdom sees J (Finn Cole) navigate through the politics of his new family and shifting internal loyalties, fuelled by money, drugs, sex and alcohol. But the dingy suburbia of Sydney has been upgraded to sun-bleached southern California – a geographical location that inevitably upgrades the whole scene with Mexico and the Mexican cartel a quick scoot down the highway.
Plot lines ebb and flow over the four seasons of Animal Kingdom – as do those family loyalties.
J’s rise in the trust of Smurf – he quickly learns to understand the business – creates mistrust in his cousins. Instilled with a huge dose of charm, Craig (Ben Robson) is a stoner whilst Deran (Jake Weary) a surfer dude who, with a bar on the beach and his own secrets, wants to go straight. But its the deeply unnerving Pope (Shawn Hatosy), psychotic and unpredictable, who needs to be watched.
It’s all high-octane thrills – with more than a little everyday family domesticity thrown in for good measure (Smurf always cooks for the boys on their return from a job) round the house and pool or Deran’s bar. Violent in can certainly get – these boys and their associates are no angels – but Animal Kingdom is a compelling drama of the highest order.
It’s certainly a long way from the original Australian film and its source material of Melbourne’s Pettingill family!