Australia has always had an interesting film industry. While it is small, an alarming number of good films are exported from “down under”. Even more than films though, the country appears to be packed with talented actors and actresses. Animal Kingdom is an astonishing example. In my opinion, this film is the ensemble cast of the year.
But it is much more than just acting. It tells the story of a young man, Joshua (or J),Â who finds himself (in a rather Hitchcockian manner) thrust into the complicated interwoven life ofÂ Â the MelbourneÂ crime family. Guy Pearce (a great example of the previously mentioned talent) plays a cold cop that almost merits the heart of the movie by trying to offer theÂ Joshua a way out. The film is riveting from first frame to last, packed with thrilling performances (Jacki Weaver being both the best and most talked about). But the film is more than just technical tension. Janine Cody (Weaver’s character) is one that walks the fine line of being disturbing and motherly while creating an awkward relationship with Joshua. The film cleverly focuses on their nervousness (or in Weaver’s case, concern).
What makes the film work is how Hitchcockian it is (a term used too infrequently while discussing the film). It is all about a guy being in an unfortunate situation that was entirely out of his control. For him it was birth right and a drug overdose, but that is merely a plot device to explain how Joshua could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a classic juxtaposition of thriller films. Here is a truly old-fashioned film that doesn’t depend on cliches, stereotypes, or a ridiculous third act. The film holds its tension, and that is a rare quality.
I don’t want to give up too much, but early on Joshua finds himself getting more involved in the family’s activites than he is really comfortable with (first just scaring someone away and then stealing a car). The film is about his inner struggle to choose what life he really wants. In that respect it is a coming-of-age story.
The DVD is nice and has a valuable commentary track from first time director, David Michod. This is the kind of film that could use a good commentary and this one certainly does the job. It also has an alarmingly large, but rather generic making-of featurette. So it’s not the greatest DVD but it will satisfy fans and, well, most other viewers as well.
Ryan Reynolds is not a great actor. At least he isn’t one that often chooses good films. Outside of his alarming choice to do a small part in Adventureland, and now this, I dislike most everything he has been a part of. But Buried did surprise me. And not just that he did it, that he carried it to impressive heights.
Buried is a self-explanatory film that basically takes the buried-alive sequence from Kill Bill vol. 2 and makes it a feature length film. While the film has (with good reason) warranted extensive comparisons to 127 Hours, this film lacks the emotional thrill of the Boyle endeavour. Buried more-or-less locks Reynolds in a coffin and finds as many ways as possible to make him suffer, make the audience uncomfortable, and give him just enough technology to make his escape seem dimly possible (how does his cell phone work?).
The film is uncomfortable and insanely intense and I have said and will say again that Reynolds does a fine job. But just getting in this situation with him is not enough to feel emotional empathy (this film is much more focused on physical constraints). This is where 127 HoursÂ is the more visceral film. Without being grounded in emotion, Buried runs close to being merely a bleak torture film. While I will acknowledge that it isÂ more than that, I refrain from highly recommending such a detached film.
There are some deleted scenes, a tacky “behind the scenes” thing, and a mediocre directors commentary on the disc. I guess there is only so much you can do with such physcial constraints. The film is good in all measurable ways, as is the DVD, but something jsut seems fundamentally incomplete about the story. I guess you can only take the buried-alive idea so far. Although I must admit, this film does have me mildly curious about Reynolds, perhaps I was wrong. The Green Lantern suggessts otherwise.
On The Art of DVDs
Animal Kingdom wisely uses what I consider to be its finest quality in its art/advertisements: the ensemble cast. While I must admit that neither image is the most visually appealing in print or on a DVD shelf, they both do what good film art does: capture the tone of the film. I’m not sure how I feel about the poster using an actual animal…
Buried has some incredible posters. The spiral Vertigo-esque image is by far my favorite poster from the past year. It is dark, stylistically unique, and eve beautiful in its own weird way. That said, I love these posters in a purely poster capacity. The relation to the film is a stretch. It makes it look more like a schlock, Grand Guignol horror film, rather than a tight, but disturbing Iraq war thriller. And the DVD art is pretty generic while thrusting Reynolds face on the cover.
This week brings a bunch of films that I haven’t seen (I guess I need to catch up). The Edward Norton Stone looks weak, as does Freakonomics, Takers, and Death Race 2.Â But Jack Goes Boating is an immensely touching drama that expands lightly on the “old awkward male finally getting a woman” concept. It is directed and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman. There seems to be a void in Blu-Ray releases this week. Actually, there just seems to be a void altogether.
Animal Kingdom, Buried, and Jack Goes Boating are worth watching (if not buying), but this isn’t the week to look for new Blu-Ray releases.