A teenage boy moves in with his grandmother and tries to figure out his role in the crime family she heads in Animal Kingdom, an Australian movie that won an Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver.
Weaver plays Janine Cody, a woman who seems like the sweet neighbor you’d share a slice of coffee cake with but is actually some combination of Carmela Soprano and Daniel Day Lewis’ character from Gangs of New York. Underneath her “dear”s and “my boy”s, she is ruthless.
She is also capable, so when Joshua (James Frecheville) finds himself alone in the world after the death of his mother (heroin overdose), he calls Janine, his grandmother, even though she and his mother hadn’t been close. She takes Joshua, called J, in and he quickly finds himself sunk into the quicksand that is the world of his “uncles” — a group of men, some actual uncles and some their friends, who rob banks and are involved in illegal drugs and aren’t afraid to shoot to kill. The cops aren’t afraid to kill either, and this starts a street war.
One detective, Leckie (Guy Pearce), isn’t a shoot-first type and attempts to convict the remaining Codys for a shooting of two police officers. He thinks the way in to the family might be J, who is involved but also scared and horrified, particularly when he feels his girlfriend might be in danger.
The Cody family seem like wild animals — always on the defensive and always ready to strike, even at each other. Weaver’s performance is perhaps the perfect demonstration of her family’s feralness — she kisses and pets her boys like a helicopter mom but also plans the death of one of them without any serious concern.
Weaver’s is a category packed full of deserving nominations — including the formidable frontrunners Melissa Leo in The Fighter and Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit. But you can see why her Janine deserves to be there.
Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language. Written and directed by David Michod, Animal Kingdom is an hour and 52 minutes long and is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. The film just had a short run at Red River Theatres in Concord and is now available on DVD.