Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Movies: Animal Kingdom/The Square (U.S. 2010)

Why haven’t I posted lately? Blame competing deadlines, promising developments, and the busiest weekend of my life. I spent the last few days at the Penny Arcade Expo, directing willing con-goers before a green screen in vignettes that may allow them to be background characters in a video game. Am I a director? No. But I’ve seen more movies than anyone else at the company, so the assignment naturally fell to me.

I put more than 300 people through their paces in three days, and for the most part the cast seemed to enjoy themselves. It’s surprisingly exhausting work. You wouldn’t think telling other people what to do would be so draining. Fortunately I remembered an essential piece of directorial advice I’d heard years ago: wear sensible shoes.

Here’s another tidbit that some of you are already aware of. They know how to make crime dramas in Australia.

In theaters now is Animal Kingdom, which I’ve been waiting for since seeing the trailer. (NOTE: You will never hear Air Supply the same way again.) In David Michôd’s electrifying film, a teenaged boy is returned to his distant extended family of armed robbers. Michôd never shows us their crimes; it’s as if they’re wanted primarily because of a grudge on the part of a deeply crooked police force. Every performance is worthy of praise. There’s Guy Pearce’s understated honest detective, Jacki Weaver as the mother who loves her sons too much. Ben Mendelsohn’s Uncle Pope is the most realistic criminal this side of Elmore Leonard, a man whose ruthlessness is made necessary because of his stupidity. It’s all held together by James Frecheville, unbelievably making his debut. His Joshua is a heartbreakingly real teen, all awkward impulses and silences. Frecheville’s face actually seems to physically change onscreen as he feels his way through a treacherous world with no one to rely on but himself.

Joel Edgerton has a key supporting role in Kingdom. He co-wrote and co-stars in The Square, directed by his brother Nash and now available on DVD. It starts with a conventional noir premise: two lovers married to other people and desperate for escape, and the promise held by a bagful of cash. Unlike many neo-noirs there’s not a wink in the entire enterprise. The Square has a true blue collar sensibility. The lives of these people would in fact be changed by the relatively meager sum of money involved, so the stakes are that much higher. And the small town setting, where everyone knows everyone else, only ratchets up the claustrophobic feel. Two relentless films, beautifully engineered.