The Films of David Michôd
Animal Kingdom (January 23/11)
David Michôd's directorial debut, Animal Kingdom follows James Frecheville's Joshua Cody as he arrives at his grandmother's (Jacki Weaver's Janine) house after his mother dies of a drug overdose - with the film subsequently detailing Joshua's ongoing encounters and dealings with his felonious family members. There's little doubt that Animal Kingdom has been infused with a slow-moving sensibility that takes some getting used to, with the deliberateness of the pace immediately exacerbated by the lack of compelling characters. Frecheville's bland work as the movie's protagonist is emblematic of Michôd's refusal to offer up figures worth rooting for or caring about, with the few exceptions to this - ie Guy Pearce's expectedly stirring turn as a sympathetic cop - relegated to the background for far too much of the film's running time. The bare hint of momentum that begins to emerge is briskly quashed by an impressively unexpected bit of violence at around the 20-minute mark, and it's clear that Michôd's subsequent efforts at drawing the viewer back into the proceedings generally fall flat. (Having said that, Animal Kingdom does boast its share of standout sequences - including a captivating scene in which Pearce's character delivers a riveting speech that seems to have inspired the film's title.) It's impossible to deny that Animal Kingdom finally comes off as the sort of movie that one admires more than one enjoys, with the striking visuals and top-notch performances just barely compensating for the film's otherwise less-than-enthralling atmosphere.
Set 10 years after a global economic collapse, The Rover follows Guy Pearce's grizzled, uncompromising Eric as he embarks on a quest to recover his automobile after it's stolen by a trio of squabbling criminals - with Eric's quest eventually aided by a simple-minded figure named Rey (Robert Pattinson). David Michôd does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the spare narrative, as the filmmaker kicks the proceedings off with an electrifying sequence that effectively establishes the movie's gritty atmosphere - with the captivating vibe heightened by Michôd's striking directorial choices and Pearce's tough, engrossing performance. The lack of context or character development isn't immediately problematic as a result, and yet there does reach a point at which the viewer begins to crave something in the realm of background information - with the movie developing an increasingly palpable hands-off feel as it progresses into its slow, uneventful midsection. This is despite a periodic inclusion of admittedly spellbinding interludes - eg Eric tells a story about his wife - and it's clear, too, that the movie's uninvolving vibe is compounded by Pattinson's striking yet frequently unintelligible turn as the dimwitted Rey. The tense, electrifying stretch that closes the film ensures that The Rover finishes on a decidedly positive note, which ultimately does secure the movie's place as an erratic but rewarding art-house thriller.