Tough and brutal life in urban jungle

THE title Animal Kingdom (Cert 15) may suggest some cute animated adventure, but this is anything but.

It’s a portrait of the survival of the fittest on the mean streets of Melbourne where criminals and cops are embroiled in a bloody feud.

David Michod’s gritty rites of passage drama cum crime thriller is loosely based on the 2002 Bay Street shooting and the notorious crime family headed by Kath Pettingill.

After the death of his mother from an overdose, Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) has nowhere to turn but her estranged family and is welcomed into the fold by grandmother Smurf (the Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver) and her boys, a criminal brotherhood of volatile drug dealer Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and easygoing Darren (Luke Ford), while armed robber Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) is in hiding from detectives who want him dead.

Also part of the gang is Baz (Joel Edgerton), who’s a bit smarter than the rest and argues for abandoning bank robbery for the stock market, saying: “Our game is over. It’s getting too hard.”

But too late for he is ambushed in his car by renegade cops, precipitating the gang to enact revenge to save face.

And so J finds himself caught up in the mayhem as cracks appear in the family. To add to the tension his loyalty is suspected as one cop, Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), attempts to lure him into police protection, warning him that in order to survive he must determine how the game is played and find his place in this cunning and brutal animal kingdom.

What’s good about Animal Kingdom is that you’re not entirely sure about some of the characters. Is Guy Pearce’s cleancut Leckie any better than the rest of the corrupt cops and is the impassive J ever going to think for himself?

And then there’s grandmother Smurf, who for the most part comes across as the classic cuddly gangster’s mom until the chips are down and you realise she is far from the innocent bystander that she seemed.

Animal Kingdom is a gritty, well-paced thriller, with moments of shocking violence, which would seem to be the preserve of American movie-makers. It carries a whiff of Scorsese and no praise could be higher.

It has taken 11 years for the sequel to East Is East to materialise. West Is West (Cert 15), once again scripted by Ayub Khan-Din, sets out by continuing the misadventures of the Khan family as they contend with the culture clash of Seventies Salford but ends up taking us into very different territory.

The focus is on Sajid (Aqib Khan), the youngest child who spent most of the first film hidden under the hood of a parka. Casually bullied at school, he tries to fit in, indulging in a spot of shoplifting and generally rebelling against the Asian traditions of his strict father George (Om Puri).

In desperation, the Salford chippie packs Sajid off with him to the Punjab to revisit his home village, hoping that the experience will show the boy his true heritage and the sacrifices he must make.

And so we get a culture clash in reverse as streetwise Sajid finds himself adrift in a rural backwater in Pakistan. It’s a shock too for the dad. Om Puri manages the feat of bringing sympathy to the gruff and overbearing George, who is confronted with the world he left behind – which includes his first wife.

And then on to the scene bursts the second Mrs Khan to reclaim her family, with Linda Bassett’s no-nonsense Ella injecting boisterous comedy as loud as her clothes.

But she also brings some pathos in a scene in which the rival wives have a heart-to-heart which, despite their different languages, manages to forge a deep understanding which brings a lump to your throat.

West Is East perhaps lacks the freshness of the original but it’s still a sweet, cheerful and uplifting comedy.