Animal Kingdom is a 2010 Australian crime drama film written and directed by David Michôd, and shot on location in Melbourne with a budget of A$5 million from Screen Australia, Film Victoria, Screen NSW and Showtime Australia. The film premiered at the 26th Sundance Film Festival on the 22nd of January 2010.
Michôd’s script was inspired by events which involved the Pettingill criminal family of Melbourne, Australia. In 1991, two brothers Trevor Pettingill and Victor Pierce (along with two other men: Anthony Leigh Farrell and Peter David McEvoy) were acquitted in the 1988 shooting murder of two Victorian police officers.
After his mother overdoses, 17-year-old Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville) asks his estranged grandmother, Janine “Smurf” Cody (Jacki Weaver), for help, and she invites him to move in with her.
Smurf is the affectionate matriarch of a Melbourne Crime family that uses her home as a base. Her home is also being watched by cops who are looking for the oldest son, Andrew “Pope” Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), who is in hiding. The volatile middle brother, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), deals drugs successfully enough to have bought the house for his mother.
The youngest brother, Darren (Luke Ford), follows the lead of his siblings, while family friend “Baz” leads the gang, which specializes in armed robbery. Craig takes J along to meet with a crooked cop from the drug squad, who tells him that renegade cops on the armed robbery squad are on the look out for all of them.
Later, Baz goes to meet Pope at a shopping centre, where they discuss quitting crime and going straight. As Baz gets in his car to leave, police approach and shoot him dead. Angry and distraught, Pope and Craig want revenge, and ask J to steal a Commodore and bring it to Darren’s place.
The car is then planted in the middle of a night-time street as a lure. Two policemen are soon drawn to the scene, where they are ambushed and shot dead by Pope and Craig. The next day, Pope, Darren and J are taken in for questioning, where J meets Detective Senior Sergeant Nathan Leckie who also leads the armed robbery squad. Leckie, one of the few non-corrupt police officers, recognizes J’s predicament and begins to lean on him. The three are later released from custody, but J returns with his girlfriend Nicky to her parents’ home.
Craig, who has avoided being picked up by the police, Pope, Darren and Smurf meet at a diner, where they recognize J as the weak link. When told by Smurf to give himself up for questioning, Craig panics, and meets a friend in rural Bendigo. He learns that the house is already being monitored, and as the police arrive tries to flee through a field but is gunned down.
Pope and Darren take J to meet their solicitor Ezra. He coaches him to not tell the police anything and pressure him to break up with Nicky, which he does. Leckie takes J into custody again, where he proposes that J be moved to witness protection, but J turns down the offer. Meanwhile, Nicky, unsure what to do, shows up at Smurf’s home, where Pope gives her heroin, questions her, then smothers her to death to keep her silent.
When J returns to Smurf’s house the next morning he discovers Nicky’s bracelet outside the house. He calls Nicky’s phone, and realising something is not right, flees to Nicky’s parents’ house. Pope gets Nicky’s address from Darren and arrives in time to intercept J. J flees on foot and is taken into a safe house. With Craig and Baz dead, Pope and Darren imprisoned, and J potentially being the star witness for the prosecution, Smurf decides, “J needs to go”.
Smurf uses her connections to procure J’s address, and persuades the corrupt cop to help her. Police from the drug squad then raid the safe house. J jumps a fence and returns to Smurf’s house, saying he wishes to help free Pope and Darren from jail. To do this, the family’s barrister then coaches J’s answers.
After his day in court, Leckie sees J before his departure from the safe hotel, and asks him if he has found his place in the world (a reference to Leckie’s animal kingdom metaphor for J’s predicament). Pope, Darren and Smurf celebrate with champagne while being interviewed after their controversial acquittal. Smurf later sees Leckie in the supermarket and taunts him. Later again, J returns to Smurf’s home asking to stay, before going to his room.
Pope enters and begins to talk to him, but is cut off when J shoots him in the head. In the final scene, J returns to the living room and embraces a now silenced Smurf.
Animal Kingdom received 18 nominations for the 2010 Australian Film Institute Awards, across all major feature film categories – a record achievement. On the 11th of December 2010, Animal Kingdom won a record 10 awards.
The film received several other film awards to Jacki Weaver who was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. Weaver was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. It was also named one of the Top Independent Films of 2010 at the National Board of Review Awards. All up the film received 36 awards and 39 nominations.
Quentin Tarantino listed Animal Kingdom as his third favourite film of 2010, behind Toy Story 3 and The Social Network.