Unleashing the Beast from Within: Movie Review of “Animal Kingdom”

Multi-award winning crime drama “Animal Kingdom” (Sony Pictures Classics, 2010) shines a focused light on the tension, turmoil, and tenacity of a family bonded by their familial investment . . . in criminal enterprise.  Enter the Cody family, consisting of grandmother, three brothers, estranged daughter and her teenage son.   Don’t anticipate a conventional family like that of The Cleavers, Bradys, or Cunninghams, or idyllic scenes of Sunday dinners or family vacations.  All is not what it appears to be, as the façade of family barely gilds twisted ruminations.

Instead, we are thrust smack into the tangled dynamics of this deranged family, and the perverse loyalty shaping and shaming it.  Narratives of twisted maternal instincts, sinister sibling rivalry, bilious behaviors, benevolent friendships and coming of age are slowly unraveled and witnessed.  Matriarch Janine “Smurf” Cody showers her sons with a love that borders on the incestuous, and yet harbors a diabolical willingness to sacrifice some cubs to preserve those most cherished by the pride.  Actions taken by eldest brother Andrew “Pope” to protect him and the family are at times paternal and psychotic.  Teenage grandson Joshua “J” Cody comes to live with the family after his mother overdoses, but realizes that he has to grow up fast and choose allies carefully, whether police or kin, if he is to survive.

The movie will not belittle your sensibility with an admonishingly bow-tied retelling of the adage “I am my brother’s keeper.” It is replaced by revealing brute savagery that the family inflicts on one another to preserve the herd, no matter the sacrifice.  The intertwined and wicked relationships unravel the extent and cost the members of the Cody family will pay in preserving the frays of family.

The movie will not distract you with scenes of armed bank robberies to titillate and fulfill our propensity for special effects and bedazzlement.  Movies such as “Set it Off” and “Heat” do a unique job of using such scenes to propel plot and inform characterization. Instead, a montage of bank camera photos during opening credits takes care of this revelation.  What is more deeply and intimately investigated are the aftershocks of crime, its residual impact on loyalty.

It’s damn near sinister and shameful the extent kin will go, and blood be shed, to procure peace. Everyone fears one another.

With rightful cause.

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