Monday, September 17, 2012

The Efficiency of Animal Kingdom

People praise movies for all sorts of reasons, but Australian writer/director David Michôd's Animal Kingdom is the first film I've ever heard recommended for its tidy organization. Knowing that I'd enjoyed The Square (another feature from Down Under), a cinephile friend said I ought to check out Kingdom, adding almost as an afterthought, "Say what you like about Australian cinema, but it certainly is efficient."

That struck me as odd praise, especially given that a quick Google search revealed that the film had garnered scads of awards and loads of critical praise. Animal Kingdom follows lost teenager Joshua "J" Cody, who finds himself insinuated into a notorious crime family after his mother dies of a heroin overdose. Caught between their lawlessness and a police armed robbery squad that's none too concerned with due process, J has to find where he belongs in this new anarchistic world. But the unprovoked murder of a family member by the cops quickly spirals into a vicious revenge killing, and J soon must focus on his survival rather than significance.

Animal Kingdom possesses everything that movie lovers -- and story lovers -- adore. A tight plot. Memorable characters. Achingly good cinematography. A killer theme. In most narratives, you'd expect one of these elements to run away with the story. There's a reason why we refer to plot-driven or character-driven tales; storytellers have a hard time holding all those elements in harmony. But not Michôd. He refuses to linger over a particularly nice shot, doesn't allow his actors to chew too much of the scenery, keeps the inevitable violence from becoming too over-the-top, avoids getting preachy when trying to communicate his message. In other words, he's efficient. And given that such restraint ultimately serves the story, making it all the more excellent, "efficient" suddenly seems a superlative compliment.

(Picture: CC 2011 by HeyItsWilliam)

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