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Animal Kingdom (2010)

I really wanted to like the Aussie crime flick Animal Kingdom, and I almost succeeded. In the end, though, I found the movie more admirable than actually likeable. Centred around a family of bank robbers and sociopaths in a Melbourne suburb, it paints a thoroughly bleak and unromantic picture of the criminal life, full of stupid decisions and murderous corrupt cops. It’s well-acted and filled with gut-wrenchingly suspenseful scenes, but it’s also deliberately alienating, which makes watching it into a bit of an exercise in endurance. Major plot points come out of nowhere and go nowhere, key scenes take place offscreen, and there’s no respite from the constant threat of violence. Our entry into the world is the family’s long-lost teenager J, who is reunited with the crew when his mother dies. Unfortunately, he is a maddeningly uncharismatic surrogate, watching scenes unfold in front of him with a slack-jawed expression. You just want to grab him and tell him, “dude, get it together!”

Fortunately, J does start to get it together in the second half, and the story settles into a more satisfying plot. I still did — all the way to the end — find myself frustrated with the movie’s refusal to give me a payoff for the big plot points it set up. I’m sure it was deliberate, but that doesn’t mean I have to go along with it. However, I will say this: I saw the movie a few days ago and it’s really stuck with me since. I’m looking forward to watching it again at some point, with my expectations properly calibrated. I didn’t love it this time, but I reserve the right to love it in the future.