| Writer-director David Michod makes his feature film debut in this crime family drama set in Melbourne, Australia. The movie opens with troubled and confused teenager Josh “J” Cody (James Frecheville) sitting on a couch next to his mother watching television. The paramedics arrive and pronounce his mom dead from a heroin overdose.
J calls his matriarchal grandmother, Janine “Smurf” Cody (Jacki Weaver), to tell her the grim news. She comes to get J and he gets initiated into his crooked extended family’s frightening world.
We are quickly introduced to his uncles. The oldest, known as “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn), is a disturbed sociopath and at the top of the police’s most wanted list. Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) is the heavily tattooed and paranoid middle child who deals in and uses cocaine. The youngest sibling, Darren (Luke Ford), is only a few years older than J.
The family business is robbing banks, which is alluded to over the opening credits with black and white stills taken from a video camera of men in masks during a stickup. After Pope’s best friend and partner in crime, Barry “Baz” Brown (Joel Edgerton from “the Square”), is shot by undercover cops while sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, the Cody brothers retaliate. Pope asks J to steal a car. J’s three uncles abandon the vehicle on a deserted roadway and lie in wait until two cops pull up to investigate. They murder the two police officers in cold blood.
This incident spurs an investigation headed by detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce from “Memento and “The Proposition”). Leckie plays on J’s youth and inexperience to get him to reveal the truth and to testify as the key witness against his uncles.
The movie’s major weakness is Frecheville. The whole story is told from his point of view. He maintains a blank look on his face and talks in a soft-spoken voice. It is hard to feel any sympathy for his predicament. Edgerton makes the most of limited screen time since his character bites the dust after 20 minutes. Weaver gives the strongest performance of the bunch. She loves to be around her sons and kisses everybody on the lips. She is a very conniving woman with a deadly side. Mendelsohn makes an indelible impression with his character’s erratic behavior.
The movie is slowly paced and has several dull stretches. The short bursts of explosive action come in four separate gunshot incidents. These abnormal lowlifes are not very interesting and the movie is unable to get inside their minds. Some of the dialogue is unintelligible. The actors talk fast with accents and slang unfamiliar to American ears.
The movie’s strength is the mood and atmosphere that conveys the trepidation felt by the Cody family. The movie attempts to build momentum leading up to the criminal court case. It drops the ball when it never actually shows J giving his oral testimony.
The domino effect of the story and the slow pins and needles build-up never result in a satisfactory payoff.
The movie won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at the Sundance Film Festival. It is opening exclusively for a limited engagement at the Leawood, AMC Studio 30 and Cinemark Palace at the Plaza.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"