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Australia's dangerous Animal Kingdom 

Crime flicks are so commonplace, so been-there-done-that, that one trick isn't in avoiding the clichés and stereotypes but rather in mixing it up so that viewers are never sure which characters will exhibit the expected behavior. The Australian drama Animal Kingdom follows suit: It knows that boys will be boys and boys with guns will be especially dangerous, but its pleasures rest in tripping up our preconceived notions of its characters. Newcomer James Frecheville stars as J, who moves in with his Grandma Smurf (Jacki Weaver) and his uncles after his mom ODs. All — even the matriarch — are involved in illegal activities, and J soon starts to follow down their path. But an honest cop (Guy Pearce) thinks that J can be turned, so he begins to mentally work on him. Pearce is such a fine actor that he keeps the script's dullest role interesting; luckily, nobody else has to contend with such a challenge. A seemingly wimpy character turns out to be the most dangerous of all; a major player primed to be around for the long haul gets blown away in the early going; a hair-trigger psycho doesn't fulfill his obligations as an evil antagonist; and so on. In Animal Kingdom, it isn't necessarily the strongest who survive, an example of writer-director David Michod's continuous efforts to goose the genre.

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