David Michôd’s ANIMAL KINGDOM features one of the quietest protagonist you’ll ever meet. He’s ‘J’ (James Frecheville), a good looking kid with a heavy brow and downcast eyes, and in the first moments of the film – one of the strongest opening scenes I’ve seen in a while – he’s on the couch watching the telly (this is an Australian film) with his mum, who is asleep. Only she’s not asleep … (SPOILER ALERT – “inciting incident” about to be revealed right here and now) … she’s “gone and OD’d.” As the paramedics take her away, J, now fully alone, calls his estranged (no joke) Grandma Smurf (Jacki Weaver), and within minutes she’s on her way to pick him up . (“Do you remember where we live, Grandma?” “Course I do darling!”) She proceeds to pull him firmly into her family of criminal sons; into the ANIMAL KINGDOM where the weakest are, well, devoured. In this hyper aggressive world, where men lunge at one another like lions, shoot cops, do drugs and kiss their mother on the mouth, how did Michôd manage to pull off the writing feat of a passive protagonist? For much of the movie, J sits and stares, goes to his room and escapes to his girlfriend’s house. Passive.
Or is he?