Friday, August 13, 2010

Double Movie with Abe: Animal Kingdom and La Soga

Animal Kingdom
Directed by David Michod
Released August 13, 2010

La Soga
Directed by Josh Crook
Released August 13, 2010

This weekend, two violent films about vicious criminals in foreign countries open in the United States. One is “Animal Kingdom,” which follows one young man’s immersion in the deadly activities of his extended family in Australia. The other is “La Soga,” a familiar tale of revenge and corruption that centers on a lawman of sorts in the Dominican Republic. In the former, the cops are just as terrifying and brutal as the criminals, and in the latter, the cops and the criminals are so intertwined it’s hard to distinguish the difference. For two films with relatively similar premises, the results are quite unalike.

Ben Mendelsohn and Joel Edgerton star in "Animal Kingdom"

“Animal Kingdom” is a taut, completely gripping film that takes one individual, basically a child, and forces him into a dangerous life where he interacts on a daily basis with his bank robber uncles and is hounded by the police in an effort to get him to turn on them. This is a family that makes the SAMCRO Teller-Morrow gang on “Sons of Anarchy” seem harmless. From its very start, the film builds up from a dismaying beginning to an increasingly unsettling chain of events that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It’s one of the subtlest, most fine-tined thrillers in a long time that uses its lack of action to maintain its suspense. The result is utterly captivating and extremely intense.

Manny Perez stars in "La Soga"

“La Soga,” by contrast, falls flat from the start. In the first, admittedly decently exciting, scene, cops chase a drug dealer and then shoot him in the head in front of a crowd of devastated onlookers. From there, things only go downhill as the main character, a quasi-cop dead set on getting revenge on the drug dealer who killed his father when he was a child, discovers disturbing links between the police force and the criminals he hunts on a daily basis. The butcher’s son (which is the English-language title of the film) is caught between a rock and a hard place with his morals pulling him in the opposite direction of his job, and neither option looks bright. It’s an all too predictable tale that packs expected surprises and a whole slew of clichés, both in terms of story and cinematographic choices.

In terms of which film’s plot might actually be more realistic, it’s probably “La Soga,” yet the execution of that story is so poor and uncreative compared with the more volatile and daringly fresh “Animal Kingdom.” Though “La Soga” is written by native Dominican Manny Perez, who also stars as La Soga himself, and was shot on location in the Dominican Republic, it feels horribly transplanted and unreal. It’s as if Brooklyn-born director Josh Crook is trying to tell a story that he doesn’t actually know and might be more effectively conveyed by someone from the culture. “Animal Kingdom,” on the other hand, is a heavily Australian production that makes great use of Australian actors, particularly Guy Pearce, who usually dons an American accent for films like “Memento” and “L.A. Confidential,” and Joel Edgerton, in addition to the other members of the cast who may be less known to American audiences. These two stories aren’t all that different, but one will keep your eyes focused tightly on the screen while the other may send them rolling around in boredom and frustration.

“Animal Kingdom”: A-
“La Soga”: C-

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