Monthly Archives: April 2011

Meek’s Cutoff


Directed by Kelly Reichardt about a group of wagon train trekkers travelling across Oregon in 1845.  Under a dozen men women and children travel in three covered wagons led by supposed explorer Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood).  They have split off from a larger wagon train, assured by Meek that he will show them a short cut to their promised land.  However, it dawns on them that Meek is all mouth and no competence.  They capture a Paiute who seems to know the land and they increasingly put their trust in him, so Meek tries to murder the Paiute who is defended by Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams).  Meek loses face and has to accept the guidance of the Paiute.


This is an austere and, I suppose, a more realistic look at the early immigrant takeover of the American west.  To call it ‘wilderness’ is of course absurd, since Native Americans had lived there for thousands of years, but such arrogance would suit the likes of Meek.  He is the fib teller who started the myths of the west.  He boasts about unprovable accomplishments and never misses an opportunity, of course, to slander Native Americans.  His stance is that of the unchallenged bully, his mind cannot function on accidents and coincidences, everything is a matter for adversarial self assertion.  It is easy for him to persuade the others not to take this desert Oregon country at face value, naturally since he’s in control it furnishes his self aggrandisement.  He thinks he’s capable and tough yet he rides on a horse whereas most of the others have to walk. He wears show off Davy Crockett-style buckskins, yet the woman  are dressed in plain ordinary clothes.  In their bucket bonnets and plain dresses, the men in their sober hats, they look like Victorian religious fanatics in some Biblical pilgrimage and doubtless some of these sort of immigrants were precisely that: the Mormons settled in Utah at this time.  Meek is a precursor of Buffalo Bill and Custer and is essentially a clown.  The woman especially see through him, indeed it was usually the women who ensured the survival of these wagon trains, a recent book narrates their competence and heroism.  Emily Tetherow faces down Meek who wants to kill the captured Paiute, he used the captive as a scapegoat for his own failings, relying on the racism of the immigrants.  Tetherow helps the Paiute, stitching his shoe and speaking up for him.  For all we know, Emily may share the usual racist assumptions but in the bleak and waterless land, the Paiute might be their only hope.

There are some superb details about wagon trek life: the bible reading, the bizarre uselessness of ordinary domestic items like chairs in the middle of a desert, the Paiute chalking pictures on a rock (needless to say, Meek interprets this in a paranoid way), the lethargy of the long hours of walking. There is a scene where the wagons must be let down an incline, this is not dramatically steep but it is rocky and one of the wagons gets smashed.  The wagons look like wheeled coffins topped by billowing shrouds and they creak along in the desolation, there is little relief from this sound. There are no dramatic changes of weather, no sandstorms, no snow, just the amazing desert tones of the landscape with it’s shades of ochre, golds and chiaroscuro.  When we see a crag, it’s so unexpected that it becomes quite stunning even though it’s not conventionally dramatic.  While the immigrants travel over this, we think of them engaged in some sort of spiritual journey, as if the emptiness of the terrain is a kind of monastic test.  They are tested, they have to have faith in others, they have nothing to  cling to and you feel they are too weary for retribution.  The Paiute seems innocent, captured for being different and to serve Meek’s purposes.  Meek is found out and becomes repentant so they have learned about themselves.  These people are not especially heroic or extraordinary, they want a short cut to their promised paradise and they are paying for their self centred credulity.  One of the men suddenly collapses and is put in the wagon, he is the victim of some disease which killed far more people in the ‘frontier’ west than anything else.

There is no relief from this land, they are lost in it at the end as they become increasingly dirty and thirsty, possibly there’s a horror story at the end of it.  The sounds of this film are generally of people talking at a distance, we catch snatches of conversation as the separateness of the sexes shows a need to preserve Victorian values.  Whatever the men are discussing, the women have their own ideas.  Conversations at night sound poetic and cryptic around the ornate lamps.  There is nothing out there except each mind reflected back on itself.  The lack of traditional film music shows how easily mainstream films (westerns as well as other genres) use the cop out of music to manipulate us away from more difficult issues.  An absorbing film about the so-called pioneers of the west.

Seen at Chapter, Cardiff.


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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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The Mission

The Mission poster


Made in 1986 about the Utopian state made by Jesuits for the Guarani people of Paraguay in the 18th century.  Robert de Niro plays a slave catcher who works for the slaveocracy.  In the jungle he warns Jeremy Irons, the Jesuit leader, that he will get more slaves.  This after a Jesuit priest was martyred by the Guarani, prompting Irons to go to the jungle to convert them.  De Niro learns that his brother has been canoodling with his fiancee, Cherie Lunghi, and in a jealous rage kills him.  Irons then rescues de Niro from remorse and sets him on a penitential path to to the Indians he formerly enslaved.  The planters want the Guarani as slaves and they appeal to the relevant authorities to get rid of the Jesuit state.  Ray McAnnally is their envoy and is impressed with the missions but still orders the state’s dismantling after hearing from both sides.  War breaks out….


Robert Joffe’s film is about the same events dealt with in Fritz Hochwalder’s play The Strong are Lonely.  Compared to Hochwalder, Robert Bolt’s script for Joffe’s film is sentimental opportunism because it exploits the 1980s fashionable concern for the Amazon forest.  Joffe meretriciously conflates the plight of the present day natives of the Amazon with the Guarani Indians of 1750s (but it should be 1760s) Paraguay.  In the film the Indians live in a tropical forest whereas the Guarani’s Paraguay ecology was different.  Hochwalder’s play was concerned with the argument between Jesuitical utopianism and the self serving interests of the Spanish settler opponents.  Hochwalder ultimately argued that both sides were in the wrong:  the Jesuit state was founded on the false  premise of the supposed mutual supportiveness of material and spiritual values undermining  the real mission of spiritual salvation.  That such criticism could originate from self serving and materially interested forces does not undermine the criticism itself    The Guarani could confuse benevolent paternalism with Jesuitical Christianity and the opposing point is that spirituality should be disinterested viv a vis worldliness.  In the film the paternalist authoritarianism of the Jesuits is falsely mixed with ecological political correctness, this anachronism merely distracts from the spiritual criticism of Utopia.  The enemies of Utopia in this film are vicious slaveowners and duplicitous politicians which endows Jesuitical Utopianism with a false anachronistic case.

The Mission follows on from The Emerald Forest as it argues for the superior virtues of a forest way of life against other interests which are automatically demonised.  Joffe’s film insultingly infantilises the native Amazonians, making them look like noble savages to be paternalistically protected from white colonialism. The film admits at the end that it would have been better for the Indians if no white people had contacted them, and that goes for well intentioned but patronising film makers also.

The pseudo debate over the Jesuit state is merely a preamble to the military conflict.  De Niro is obviously ill at ease as conscience-stricken, he is happier as a sword wielder.  Julian Barnes  wrote an hilarious story about Matt, a film star clearly modelled on de Niro in The Mission.  Barnes ridicules the prima donna inanities of stars filming in jungle locations, megalomanical and buddy buddy homoerotic with Jeremy Irons.  Joffe gives Irons the intellectual leadership, explaining to his literal minded Jesuit brethren that they are an order and not a democracy, as if they wouldn’t have understood that at the outset.  In Hochwalder’s play they stick to their vow of obedience to the point of self sacrifice, that would be asking too much of these mainstream cinema priests.  In this film the Jesuits are obedient when it suits them in their self appointed role as benevolent authoritarians and yet they react with predictable pride vis a vis the Spanish court authorities.  The inconsistency in this abrupt change is glossed over by the film in its anxiety to moralise simple mindedly the Jesuits’ stance.  Irons relationship with the Papal envoy Ray McAnnally are initially diplomatically suave but ultimately lachrymose and Kum-ba-ya creepy, his pacifism simply an embellishment of useless martyrdom.  Similarly the Papal envoy. Ray McAnnally, is obviously emotionally won over by the paradisal simplicity of the Jesuit states, yet he decides for their dismantling with no sign of inner turmoil.  This is lazy acting.  He simply says he will do what his conscience dictates and swings into opposition to the Jesuits.

The planters are simply avaricious and cruel devils in tropically run down and mildewed Rococo outlandishness, though Ronald Pickup is given a more thoughtful role as the politician from Europe.

This film is opportunist in that it doesn’t tackle concerns over the Amazon forest but uses the forest as escapist spectacle which conceals the non argument at the heart of this production. The Mission is good to look at, one of the spectacular 1980s cinematic visits to the Amazon along with Fitzcarraldo and Emerald Forest.  Fitzcarraldo is about about a boat dragged laboriously through the forest, Mission is about simple sentiments dragged laboriously through the forest.


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Inception poster


Leonardo di Caprio plays Cobb, an ‘extractor’ who gets into people’s dreams.  We see him first on a beach, he is taken to Japanese businessman he worked for.  In Paris he recruits Ariadne who makes mazes, Cobb takes her round a dreamscape Paris folding skywards.  They risk being stranded in a dream.  The Japanese businessman has a rival running a corporate empire, he wants him out of the way.  Peter Postlethwaite  plays this character, he has a grandson (Cillian Murphy) who Cobb and co want to use to infiltrate dreams.  Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the dreams’ architect but dreamers fill in their own details.  They go into the heir’s subconscious through three dream levels to get to the ultimate situation.  There are shoot-outs, an escape from a hotel, things float sideways through corridors, a van is in free-fall from a bridge, then they get into Alpine scenery and reach Postlethwaite in a surreal sickroom.  Cobb has to resist being lured into a permanent dream by his wife (Marion Cotillard), he gets away from her apartment which crumbles into a stormy sea.  They all wake up on a plane, Cobb meets his kids, spins a token as a sort of reality memento.   Is it all still in a dream?


I didn’t really worry about the film being an unending dream because I think it lacks good story telling skills.  We get characters saying things like “This is in your head, what do you do next?”,  “This is my dream and I am enjoying my subconscious”, and so on.  If a story has to comment on its own actions it’s not a proper story, it’s a self conscious ritual of schematisation.  A slow numbing seeps through me as it gets quite up itself, it’s like watching  The Matrix, nerdy complications become ends in themselves as they send ‘plot’,  ‘character’,  ‘human quirkiness’,  and ‘coherence’ into an artistic casualty ward.

Dead of Night showed film makers how to make a film about a dream, things charge to a horrifying climax and still there’s the possibility at the end that the dreamer will go through it all again, but it is tantalisingly hinted at rather than spelt out in CGI circus tricks.  Dead of Night is rooted in everyday life and everyday anxieties, the stories are separated from the possible reality of story telling in the setting of a cottage.

It has been said that film is the technology of dreaming, so are we supposed to think that this film theorises about film?  Well, it lacks even cod philosophising, neither do we get to the level even cod psychology, so take your pick.  When Cillan Murphy finds a wind toy by Postlethwaite’s bed, are we meant to think that this a symbol of lost happiness like ‘Rosebud’ the sledge in Citizen Kane?  Does this want to be a as momentous a film as Orson Welles’?

This film’s depiction of dream images, like nearly all of Hollywood’s in the past century, is tame and unoriginal.  One is impressed by CGI trickery and the reference to Escher’s stairway is nice but mainstream cinema is embarrassed by the weirdness and disconcerting quirkiness of actual dreams, it prefers to keep them stereotyped, settling for neat tableaux of  decipherable archetypes.  In mainstream cinema you know you are in a dream when the following occur:

  • a) a white bird flapping slowly down a corridor,
  • b) echoing voices,
  • c) a character dramatically changes appearance,
  • d) running down a street in slow motion soundlessly shouting,
  • e) a safe or a doll’s house contains a small object,
  • f) silence interrupted by sudden noise,
  • g) a loudly ticking clock,
  • h) a sky speeded up,
  • i) silent banging on a door.                                                               .

In  Inception, the extractors carry a personal token into the dream so it seems a sort of shamanistic vision quest except that the dream has been designed by a psycho-technician and the dreamer’s quirky details are never allowed in, so what’s supposed to be a dream is simply visual stylisation, a sort of shifting cinematic wallpaper.  The schematic set allows a certain symbolic freedom if it is not disturbing, that is dreaming from coffee table magazine illustrations and the dream must serve an overriding waking state narrative cohesion, the symbolism merely illustrates the narratives requirements, the dream can never be taken on it’s own terms and left enigmatic.  Hitchcock dreamed courtesy of Dali, others have chosen Tenniel psychedelia and Jungian religious archetypes from Roger Cormen but they have all been safe.  It’s as if mainstream cinema has set itself the Freudian task of puritanically reducing the moods of dreamscapes into the simplicity of decipherable symbols.  Like Freud, mainstream cinema wants dream symbols to serve a morally didactic purpose, dreams must lead to moral resolution and those beguiled by dreams are supping with the devil.  Here Cobb’s wife has died, imprisoned within dreams which reflect Cobb’s own guilt.  He must atone for the loss of his wife by transcending the beguilements of the dream.

It might be harsh criticising too much the dream images of Inception when there are technological tricks, but some more imaginative interpolations would have been welcome.  We get the streets of Paris, a bridge in the rain, a hotel, then a mountain landscape straight out of Where Eagles Dare, all driven by shoot-outs and fistfights, so there’s no chance of any deeper stuff.  This was made by Christopher Nolan of the Batman films, so you would have expected something gloomier instead of the slo-mo Mission Impossible we get.


Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Film Reviews, Out on DVD


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Starring Bradley Cooper as a failed writer who is given an intellect and mind enhancing drug by his brother in law.  He develops great intellectual powers and visits this brother in law who has been murdered.  He takes the drugs and uses them to get into high finance under Robert de Niro’s mentorship.  He is pursued by someone from a rival outfit who also uses this drug.  His girlfriend is pursued and escapes by using the wonder drug.  Bradley has sex with a women  who is murdered and he may be the murderer.  He owes money to a Russian gangster who takes the drug and pursues Bradley for more.  Bradley gets the better of him and then outwits de Niro.  Bradley takes regular doses of the wonderdrug and escapes the fatal fate of the other users.  He becomes a senator.


A pretty daft film which is good fun.  It’s a bit like that John Trevolta film where he becomes very intelligent, and it is also of course a familiar sci-fi story: the Faustian pact with the devil and all that.  It’s also a reminder of Gremlins and Spiderman; be careful with that gift, use it responsibly for the common good.  This is supposed to express good old American precepts: that good fortune, happiness, money, and any other success should all be earned and not be a matter of luck.  If these wonders are given, you have a great responsibilty, if you use it for self gain you will perish.  It’s also a reworking of the Midas myth.  It’s a part of our folk wisdom, the desire for something is inherently good in itself but the ending of desire is simple minded satiety.  Any wish must stay unsatisfied  in order to promote striving and challenge, its fulfilment must be judiciously spared and be a platform for further effort, if not, it leads to the evil of moral deregulation or self cannibalism in a weary self disgust.  In this story our hero never stops learning and he delights in his powers so he doesn’t do the decent thing and die.  There is no domestication of super talents as in the TV series Heroes, this guy can live with his luck.  In his case there are no consequences, we remember Samuel L Jackson lecturing that global base jumper on the consequences he must pay for.

The voice of striving humanity’s efforts is supplied by de Niro who lectures Bradley on the need for effort and the overcoming of obstacles to appreciate one’s success. This is pretty rich coming from an overly powerful business moghul.

There are implausibilities in the plot: when Bradley’s would-be Russian nemesis catches up with him, he is on the superdrug yet Bradley is not, so the Russian criminal should be able to outwit Bradley, but he can’t.  Did Bradley murder the woman during his blackout?  He hires a lawyer who comes up with weak circumstantial evidence and he gets him off.  What happened, did he kill her?  It’s a bit like Adjustment Bureau in that it turns New York into a cinematic base jumping contest.  Are New Yorkers getting the message that they must ‘touch the hero within themselves’ in order to rise above paranoia about terrorism?  Is computerised cinema just getting too impatient with the industrial constraints on our lives?  Maybe they’re trying to turn the 21st century cityscape into a drugrush because we can’t hope to reach the millions of stories in the human hive.  I’ll settle for endless stories without hi-tech gimmicks, please.


Posted by on April 13, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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I’m Not There

I'm Not There poster

Todd Haynes’ 2007 film about Bob Dylan is not a biopic, it’s a montage of portrayals through several actors.  Significantly, the only really good performance is from Cate Blanchette playing Dylan in his most controversial mid sixties phase.  The other performances highlight how average Dylan was outside the mid sixties, from fictitious hobo and Woody Guthrie wannabee parasite to mysogynistic rocker. The comparison of Dylan with Rimbaud is grandiloquently absurd.  Haynes is meticulous on period details, to the point of parody (see Far from Heaven), so the film is superb on period details of Dylan’s strummer-turned surreal rocker from ’64 to ’67.

In parts, Blanchette’s performance eerily replicates the tetchy prima donna of the 1965 Don’t Look Back film, and we get accurate observations on the tacky hedonism of the Warhol period.  We also get Godard-type scenes where our hero follows a socialite to impress her with superstar nonsense.

The film cleverly guys the ’70s stovepipe-hatted cowboy mystic style, complete with surreal stereotypes from the Basement Tapes cover, poses courtesy of Jesse James, rock star as outlaw hero.

Dylan has not had a happy relationship with cinema .  His own appearances have been lamentable.  Don’t Look Back showed how amphetamined  middle brow chatter can cover for vacuity, and of his ’70s and’80s film appearances the less said the better.  The Edie Sedgwick film does not flatter either.

As for the man himself, Dylan’s supposed martyrdom by fame and easy success reminds me of that Peter Cooke joke about Greta Garbo disregardedly wandering down an empty street shouting ‘I want to be alone’ through a megaphone.  He backed into the limelight manufacturing a career out of being an ‘enigma’, not only does he complain when people then wonder what sort of enigma he is, he doesn’t realise it’s something the rest of us manage to be, without trying.  As for which of the Bob Dylan’s is the real one, does anyone really care?  The film shows us, albeit inadvertently, how overrated Dylan could be, outside his talent for media manipulation and impressing people with obscure phraseology wrapped in disparate imagery in songs lacking narrative development.  This film tells us a lot about Todd Haynes, like Oliver Stone he is obviously obsessed with the myths of the ’60s and ’70s and sees Dylan’s career as an excuse to raid the cliche wardrobe.  There is temporal cross cutting which does not cohere into a recognisable biography which was undoubtedly Haynes’s intention.  Perhaps he wanted the film to be an analogy of a Dylan song or story, driven by image rather than narrative.  There are justly cruel observations on Dylan’s manager, on Warhol groupies, on pampered Edie Sedgwick and Francoise Hardy types, on Ginsberg, and the’50s.  Haynes maybe parodying the rock biopics served with the usual stereotypes of Kennedy, Vietnam, the moon landings etc, just in case we don’t get what the 60’s was all about.

Haynes gives the Cate Blanchette persona an easy ride allowing his bathetic remarks  to stand unchallenged  and of course anybody not in with the Dylan psyches private jokes is nowhere. Haynes is also good on the fawning establishment’s pathetic attempts to be hip and to ride his bandwagon.

Perhaps Haynes is satirising aspects of the Dylan myth, but isn’t he also augmenting it?  It reminds me of those interviewers who would like to talk to Dylan but retreat into a distanced cool because afraid of a rebuff.  Anybody coming to Dylan for the first time through this film might wonder if they are being manipulated and fooled.  Haynes has made a clever film which manages to lionise and lampoon Dylan as it’s ultimately forgiving of his faults.  A patchily good film about an unsympathetic subject.

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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Film Reviews, Independent films


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Source Code

Source Code poster


Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens, but when he looks in the mirror he finds a different face from his own.  He is on a train Chicago-bound and he meets a young woman  Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who knows him but he doesn’t know her.  There is an explosion and Gyllenhaal finds himself in a capsule talking to army officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga).  Gyllenhaal will be sent to the train for 8 minutes many times until he finds the bomber and saves millions of Chicagoans from death by terror bombing, so we get a Groundhog Day revisiting of the train until he finds the bomber and stops him, but the bombing of the train will not be prevented.  Colter Stevens is actually a dreadfully maimed soldier from Afghanistan service who gradually is aware that he is in a chamber and that his mind links up to events on the train, and that he can change the future.  The outfit who runs this is called ‘Source Code’ run by Dr Rutledge (Jefffrey Wright).  When Stevens is successful, Rutledge wants to use his mind to control the future but Colleen Goodwin shows mercy and removes his brain support after Stevens tried to save the people from the bomb on the train as well as from the later far more destructive bomb.  In some Elysian parallel universe Stevens is romantically linked with Christina.  They both admire Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ – a globular stainless steel mirror in Chicago.


This film is made by Duncan Jones who made Moon, so you could expect a concern with identity, memory and other matters epistemological.  I wonder which philosophers influenced him, and which he wants to illustrate in his films, he is philosophically trained.   Being on a train and the search for identity there on, you think of Hitchcock in which identities are switched, relationships formed, and crimes are committed.  Christina is of course ultimately unreal in the game of consciousness played by Source Code.

Because this film avoids the embarrassment of characters cornily philosophising with each other as in The Matrix, the this film has escaped being accused of cod philosophy but one critic has mentioned Descsrtes and how this film illustrates his ideas.  I don’t think so.  If you want a parable illustrating the mind body dualism and its philosophical problems, then the White Knight in Alice Through the Looking Glass is the best fun to be had with this easily misunderstood topic.

Once again, at the technological frontier of experimentation, the American military is involved, as in  Avatar.  Gyllenhaal gets to show he is a sensitive guy at the end, as he realises his frail mortality through the Source Code experiment.  It’s also a bit like James Stewart’s spiritual transformation in It’s a Wonderful Life. He gives a comedian money to entertain the doomed passengers on the train.  Anyway it repeats Avatar‘s trick of having the hero thought-travel to affect outcomes in another malleable reality, and I think this is just a gimmick because it saves plot labour.  You can switch from capsule to other reality and other reality to capsule.  It induces a sort of hi-tech narcosis in which, because it’s all like a computer prank, then you don’t ultimately care what happens.  It reminds me of those badly written sci-fi stories in which characters superfluously tell us that it’s ‘all in his head’.

The Ground Hog Day repetition of those eight minutes on the train are shown through various perspectives until Gyllenhaal knows exactly what’s coming and he can act with impunity in beating people up – after all, isn’t this the war against terror?  Isn’t this in danger of being a fictionally sanctimonial analogy of the manipulative distancing of aerial bombing and it’s renunciation of immediate consequences because of the importance of the ultimate outcome?  I get the feeling that this is just a slight Outer Limits story in pseudo-philosophical drag.  Gyllenhaal develops an Olympian posture of hi-tech messianism, but it’s all done in a metal tank and it acquires the uninvolving unreality of hallucinatory game playing.

The film obviously reminds us of Powell and Pressburger’s Matter of Life and Death – indeed Gyllenhaal asks if he is dead, which is like those dreadfully superfluous comments on the action that I mentioned about bad sci-fi stories.  The film gives the game away fairly early so that the suspense should be in seeing how he finds the terrorist, but since he’s got lots of time, then there is no real suspense, so we’re more interested in what he does about Christina.  Well, they are romantically together under Cloud Gate.  Source Code at the end, doesn’t seem to be aware of how he changed the future because the terrorist attack was foiled earlier.  What?  Come again.  So it’s really a sci-fi Wonderful Life, isn’t it?  Plot coherence and tension have been sacrificed to the morally satisfying ending where the rugged individual gets the better of corporate manipulation.  The horrid military conspirators must have their acceptable face, and it comes in the form of Vera Farmiga whose glacial blue eyes compete for hypnotism with Michelle Monaghan’s.  Some what overblown.

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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom poster


Set in Melbourne in the 1980’s, it starts off with teenage Josh watching TV, his mother is dead next to him, dead from a heroin overdose.  He then gets involved with his relatives, a bunch of criminals who specialise in bank robberies.  Their house is under surveillance by police.  This criminal family, the Codys, are ruled over by matriarch  Jackie Weaver, a diminutive blonde.  Two of the Codys are shot by the police, one of them wanted to go straight and get into the stock market.  One member of the family is a lawyer and helps out legally, but of course does not help the police with their enquiries.  One of the Codys was shot in his car, the other does a runner in Ned Kelly country.  Ben Mendelsohn plays Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody who is a really vicious criminal.  He hotshots Josh’s girlfriend, thinking she might betray them to the police.  He goes to jail but Jackie Weaver gets him out.  He gets away with that murder after killing a couple of cops.  Josh meets up with policeman Guy Pearce who plays a humane cop called Leekie.  Josh is put under witness protection but Jackie Weaver’s family get away with the murders.  Using vigilante justice, Josh kills ‘Pope’ Cody.


The critics have lined up to praise this unremarkable film.  They’ve strained at the ‘animal kingdom’ metaphor, but these criminals are an insult to animals, they are mundane thugs.  Pope Cody just looks bovine, so maybe that’s an apt epithet that might justify the title.  This is just another sordid little film that pays inexplicably close attention to these morally witless wastes of time.  It’s supposed to be a close and original look at criminals, but it looked to me more like a documentary about weirdly dysfunctional people set in  Neighbours houses.  These priceless louts spend all day snorting coke and undermining each other’s sanity.  The only faintly interesting Cody gets killed, aware of a different way of life.  Houses always look immaculate, nobody seems to attend to the ordinary details of life.

Josh is a thoroughly unsympathetic person, not just the usual surly adolescent, but seems almost catatonically stupid, the sort of automaton who could walk through world war without blinking.  At least Tarantino’s  goons have a sense of humour, this guy hasn’t any claim on our attention   His girlfriend is a bit sympathetic and she introduces him to her parents who are weak and well meaning, still, visiting a couple of psychopaths  jacking up on heroin is not the smartest move she ever made.  The matriarch reminds me of the blonde matriarch in The Fighter, and of course she’s like Barbara Windsor being the mother of the Kray twins, a character familiar to the point of comedy  She is clever and manipulative but as far as competition goes she is like a pike in a pond of minnows.  She threatens effectively using police contacts but she can be as mindlessly sociopathic as the rest.  The one sympathetic character is the policeman Leekie.  He talks about the shortness of bugs’ lives in a much longer lived forest, and this ponderous metaphor is presumably meant to justify the film’s title.  He tries to win Josh round to the better part of himself, which for me was invisible at the start of the film, his  sympathy seems lost on Josh.  We know Leekie is solid and decent because he is a family man, cinema’s ultimate badge of approval.  We know he’s got the soul of a social worker.  He’s probably as baffled as the rest of us as to know how criminals can enjoy  their egregious ways of earning a living.

For seventy or eighty years we’ve had the often unedifying spectacle of cinema’s loving fascination with dangerous criminals, it’s vicarious thrills and erotic voyeurism can’t explain the whole of it.  A much better job was done by Sydney Lumet’s Before the Devil knows You’re Dead, which expertly shared the awful claustrophobia of a criminal life.  It shared how people get into a horrifying situation, so there is a human tragedy behind the crime, while Animal Kingdom wallows in crime as such and doesn’t bother to enquire into the circumstances that made people criminals.  This overrated tosh comes  nowhere near Lumet’s film.  People didn’t have small mobile phones in the 1980’s, did they?  They did in this film.


Posted by on April 6, 2011 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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