David Michôd delivers a powerful directorial debut. From the moment the film begins there is the sense that one has entered a deep, dark, forbidding place. Following the death of his mother Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frenchville) moves in with the criminal Cody clan: his estranged grandmother Janine ‘Smurf” Cody (Jackie Weaver) and three uncles Pope Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (Luke Ford). J is a gentle giant, unassuming, lumbering and innocent. His lethally sweet grandmother Janine titters on the edge of incestuous as she dots on her sons. Armed robber Uncle Pope hides from a deadly gang of renegade detectives. Drug dealer, Craig makes his living in trading the drugs he himself does not consume. The youngest uncle Darren, half-heartedly tries to navigate his way through this criminal world. All of them driven by fear, stay close to home as Smurf uses her love to control, manipulate and bind the family together while deftly guiding it as if it where a business.
In this world of intense emotional chaos, covert violence and primordial paranoia, there is the sense that the family is always living on the brink of destruction. But their lives spin completely out of control as a battle between the Cody Brothers and some renegade police erupts. The proximity between civil society and the animal kingdom closes and the tension builds as the innocent haplessly cross paths with the predatory while a corrupted system feeds off of itself. One senior officer, Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), serves as the counterpoint, representing sanity, tries to lure J into a world of normalcy through the witness protection. But J lives to close to the edge where the lines between the good guys and the bad guys blur and the witness protection program also turns out to be unsafe.
The message that humans are nothing but animal once pushed beyond the confines of the blissful ignorance of social structure rings loud and clear. As such the story is ultimately a tales of twisted passion driven purely by the desire to survive. There is no logic. The brutality of the Melbourne underworld and the Cody clan’s place in it is smothering. J soon discovers this world is far more menacing than he could ever imagine. He comes to realize that in order to survive he must somehow find his place and either become an alpha or be consumed by the other animals.
Big budget films usually rely on graphic violence and overt action, this film is filled with subtle intesity, filled with delayed responses, slowed shots and lingering action sequences, each moment pushing the characters and the viewer closer and closer to the edge. The innocent will leave theatres hoping J will somehow escape the pernicious insanity. The cynical will leave the theatre believing his fate is sealed. Be prepared to leave the theatre with a little residual paranoia all of your own.
Cast (in alphabetical order):
James Frecheville (Joshua ‘J’ Cody), Ben Mendelsohn (Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody), Joel Edgerton (Barry Brown), Guy Pearce (Leckie), Luke Ford (Darren Cody), Jacki Weaver (Janine Cody), Sullivan Stapleton (Craig Cody), full cast and crew.
Release Date: 13 August 2010 (limited). Directed and written by David Michôd, released by Porchlight Films. Running time: 112 minutes; MPAA Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language. Genre: Crime/Thriller/Drama.
Opening in San Francisco on Friday, August 20, 2010 in limited release at the Kabuki Cinema, AMC Metreon and Shattuck Cinemas. Check local listing for show times.