MOMMIE DEAREST Jacki Weaver and Joel Edgerton are in a family of criminals in Animal Kingdom
Credit: Narelle Sheean

The fundamental Darwinian rules apply in the dashing Australian crime-and-cops drama Animal Kingdom. Every movement of the criminal Cody family — three adult brothers involved in a world of bad, their mother, and her teenage grandson — reflects the struggle for the survival of the fittest. Every glance suggests the animal eyes of the wounded, the trusting, the fearful, and the ones preparing for the kill.

You could pleasurably lose yourself in the nature references. Or you could sit back and revel in the taut hunted-versus-hunters machinations, seen through the eyes of the grandson cub named J (James Frecheville) and set in motion by stylish writer-director David Michod. The Melbourne of Michod’s gripping allegory is a jungle of robbery, drug dealing, and dirty law-enforcement officials among the clean. (Guy Pearce plays one of the latter.) It’s also a garden of pleasant suburban homes and family togetherness. At the Cody house, where J joins his uncles and grandma following the death of his mother, matriarch Janine (the great, enduring Australian star Jacki Weaver) dotes on her boys, even if her boys include a chilling, killing, gentle-eyed psychopath (Ben Mendelsohn, simultaneously terrifying and mild). Don’t be fooled: In this unpeaceable kingdom, the den mama is also ready to eat her young. A-