New to DVD: Animal Kingdom, Daybreakers, Harry Brown

New to Schlock Footage, it’s “New to DVD”. Pretty self-explanatory really. Let’s jump in.

Animal Kingdom, an Australian crime film by writer-director David Michod, is a devastating slice of human aggression in the confines of Melbourne suburbia. Josh Cody (James Frecheville) is forced to reacquaint himself with his extended, notorious family upon his mother’s death. Vengeful domestic explosions occur as the Codys are threatened by Melbourne’s Armed Robbery Squad, and Josh (along with the audience) is drawn into a tense, life-threatening domestic space.

At the poles of good and evil stand powerful performances from Guy Pearce as a committed investigator, and Ben Mendehlson as the leering, Smerdyakov-type “Pope.” Frecheville plays it straight, almost deadpan, a perfect fit for an awkward 17-year-old, while the supporting cast all shine, particularly Joel Edgerton and Jacki Weaver. The cinematography never fails to capture the sleepy yet foreboding presence of Melbourne’s outer suburbs, setting the scene for a slow march towards a violent, inevitable end. 92%

Daybreakers – Now, I didn’t see Daybreakers in the cinema because frankly, the promotional poster carried this fairly overused image – row upon row of human beings, bound by some clearly unfriendly apparatii, with the tagline “In 2019, the most precious natural resource… is us.” Yikes, no thank you.

It turns out, of course, that Daybreakers is in fact a vampire movie, with some dashes of dystopian sci-fi thrown in. And the big surprise? It’s really pretty good. The “vampire mechanics” are consistent, yet not overused, Ethan Hawke carries the show with some big, soulful eyes, and the supporting cast (Daybreakers was filmed in Australia) will have you thinking back fondly to The Secret Life of Us (Though, now that I think about it, so will Animal Kingdom).

There are some storytelling issues – namely, the relationship between Hawke’s Dalton and his brother (Michael Dorman) is underdeveloped, and the otherwise-perfect turn of Sam Neill as the calculating Bromley is muddied by a directionless subplot, revolving around his daughter (Isabel Lucas). However, the film’s main conceit – vampires are now the majority, and they’re out of food – is executed without too many hitches, and the blending of vamp-horror and sci-fi cinematography is pretty fresh. 80%

Harry Brown – Michael Caine is one part Charles Bronson, one part Clint Eastwood, two parts Michael Caine in this British revenge fantasy. The police are too busy being bureaucratic to deal with escalating gang violence in London, and when Brown’s friend Len (David Bradley, the unintelligible farmer from Hot Fuzz) has his own run-in with those filthy youths, it’s up to Harry Brown to exact vengeance.

The problem here is not in the execution – performances are routinely superb, from Caine’s angst-ridden pensioner/fucker-upper to Emily Mortimer’s turn as the compassionate DI. The problem is with Harry Brown’s dubious politics, wherein the wish-fulfilment aspect of the film’s revenge fantasy goes unchallenged – the bad guys (boys), though humanised through some great young actors, are steamrolled by the violent trajectory of the plot. Harry Brown works as a more old-fashioned actioner, but the “vigilante pensioner” (Empire, Nov 2010) is handled with far more nuance elswehere, particularly in Eastwood’s Gran Torino. 73%

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