Thursday, March 24, 2011
PTU Movie Review: Animal Kingdom
I had been meaning to watch this one for some time now, but extenuating circumstances have kept my Netflix Queue clogged up for a while. Critically acclaimed and award winning Australian crime drama sounds right up my alley, so I was kind of excited to see what all the fuss was about.
Revolving around a close-knit family of criminals (the term "crime family" would suggest a very different type of movie) who as the film begins, welcome two new additions; the creepy on-the-run lunatic Uncle Pope and the recently orphaned, quiet teenager Josh (who is the main protagonist). It's established early on that their armed robbery crew act has begun to wear thin on the local police force, eventually leading to a war between the family and the police, as well as a modest body count.
There's a good deal to like here. Adam Arkapow's cinematography is top-notch as the film looks great, and the praise for Jackie Weaver's performance as the scheming mother was warranted. The Uncle Pope character is maybe the creepiest uncle in film history, and he comes off as unhinged but not over-the-top through out. There were some genuinely surprising moments (especially early on) as well.
But, to me at least, there was something missing. The film has all the familiar indie film staples: a less than linear structure, loads of quiet, contemplative scenes of people staring solemnly into space, and a lack of any real visceral action, without the depth that would have to accompany them to create a worthwhile work of art that it seems to aspire to be. This leads to one of my biggest gripes with indie art-house type films. Sometimes, film makers try so hard to not come off as showy or be accused of making noisy, shallow action flicks, that they overcompensate with unrealistic performances and just plain boring scenes strung together in really cool lighting. In trying not to over act, a lot of performances are under acted to the point that everyone walks around like an emotionless zombie. There has to be a middle ground between loud, ADHD paced Guy Ritchie films and something that works better as a visual than a complete film . It's almost like certain directors are afraid that if a film actually entertains then it can't be considered high art.
Case in point, there's a scene (without giving anything away) that involves a main character deliberately crashing his car into another character, who is being driven in a friends' car. The reaction from the driver is complete silence. There are a number of scenes with similar muted reactions that just seem ridiculously contrived. It was pointed out to me that this might be an attempt at showing how the background characters are just props in this family's world or some other existensial themes, but it just comes off as forced in a film that seems to value realism. And that sounds like a load of bullshit anyway.
I have no problem with deliberately paced, introspective films. I even watch movies without guns in them sometimes. But there has to be some kind of either interesting character development or emotional depth or the whole thing just comes off as a barely there, fantasy world. Unfortunately, Animal Kingdom lacks either of those qualities. It's David Mirchod's debut, so maybe his next film will improve upon this, or maybe I'm just not the target audience for this type of stuff. Maybe I'll rent Die Hard instead.
I give it 2 out of 4 bagels