Playing witness to a long-standing director’s career can be fascinating, especially when said director enters his twilight years. While few of them would ever admit to it, any artist who has found an enduring critical success must eventually look at his oeuvre in terms of “legacy”, measuring his work against that of his peers and cinematic kin. For Ridley Scott, this self-evaluation brought him back to the bleakly-industrial and brilliant Alien, and a desire to see that world augmented. Like any artist with an eye trained on his own mortality, Scott chose to build on his Alien world existentially, and the resulting epic is Prometheus; a film somehow both ceaselessly mesmerizing and utterly baffling.
Tag Archives: Guy Pearce
What Animal Kingdom does best is shock you. The violence of Director David Michôd‘s Australian gangster film is mostly sudden and stark. It comes out of nowhere, and once it has passed the film returns to an even-keeled plod, as though nothing has happened. This is certainly intentional, and the pie piece that makes Animal Kingdom worth watching.
Newcomer James Frecheville plays Josh “J” Cody, the nephew of the notorious Cody brothers; bank robbers, drug dealers, nice guy villains. As the local law close in on the Cody family, J finds himself caught in the middle, despite being essentially nonexistent in every interaction he has. Frecheville, presumably at the direction of Michôd, plays J with precisely the kind of permeating detachment you expect from a teenager. While this is an excellent theoretical choice for the tone of the film, it ends up leaving J a hard character to care about.
As J’s eerily manipulative Grandma Janine and the matriarch of this nuclear crime syndicate, Jacki Weaver has leapt out with an Oscar nomination as the most notable member of this cast. Certainly her performance is strong, though it takes awhile to get going, and even once she hits her stride it feels like equal parts performance and direction. A standout nonetheless, Weaver is not the only one in this performance-heavy composition. Guy Pearce, in one of his many recent minimal appearances, is as intriguing as ever. His Detective Leckie seems the only one in opposition to the Codys who has some idea of what’s going on. Meanwhile, Ben Mendelsohn as J’s Uncle Pope Cody is haunting and shadowy. Pope is the family’s active leader (behind its Oz-like grandmother) and his persistent mania keeps him unchallenged. The film’s one chief weakness is how much the story hinges on its final moment. Without revealing anything, this is a slow-paced film with a huge payoff. Without said payoff, it’s not much of a film at all.
Animal Kingdom is a relatively straight-forward genre film, with pacing deliberate and measured, and more than one career-defining performance.
It seems that “Based on a True Story” is a qualifier used more and more these days. This year alone contains the films 127 Hours, The Fighter, and The Social Network, which are all “based on…” to varying degrees. It’s logical that dramatic reality is more compelling than dramatic fiction, and regardless of how truthfully one’s film follows that reality, people are going to respond to it. The problem then comes when a filmmaker takes advantage of this fact and tells us a story that isn’t entirely worth telling, or a story more intriguing on paper than the screen. It’s not black and white either, with films like The Social Network telling first-rate tales but taking huge liberties in order to do so. Luckily, there are films like The King’s Speech, which don’t require any embroidery to astound us. Films that have found the perfect historical confluence of event and characters and themes. It’s the rarity of films like this that makes them so special, but in the case of The King’s Speech it’s also the quality of the yarn. It is surely one of the best stories you’ve never heard.