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A brutal Australian crime family, led by the mom, gets in over its head

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Just in time for The Family, starring Robert De Niro as a mobster who enters the Witness Protection Program with his wife and kids, we’re recommending five tales of crime and kinship.

Animal Kingdom (2010)

Jacki Weaver was singled out by critics and the Academy—which nominated her in the Supporting Actress category—for her performance as the cold-blooded matriarch in 2010’s Animal Kingdom. And it’s true, Weaver does give a chilling performance as a woman—with the inappropriately cuddly nickname “Smurf”—who seems to delight in the darker sides of her family’s criminal enterprise. Her cadence and inflections frequently play like they’re part of a horror movie. Even when she’s being affectionate, it always seems like Weaver might commit murder (or, more likely, manipulate someone into murdering for her). But she’s also surrounded by an incredible cast, from James Frecheville as her naïve grandson to Ben Mendelsohn as her ruthless eldest.


Weaver’s also the focal point of a harrowing true-crime story, inspired by a real Australian family, the Pettingills. Animal Kingdom is set in motion by the arrival of Frecheville, whose mother dies of a drug overdose; Weaver takes him in as both a ward and an extra pair of hands for the gang. He quickly assimilates, impressed by his ruthless uncles, though he doesn’t realize that his crime family is set to fracture. An ill-advised war with the cops—most of them dirty, except Guy Pearce—and the paranoid intensity of Mendelsohn’s character, who thinks he smells a rat, makes the movie’s second half almost impossibly tense. And where crime movies so often lose steam in trying to resolve their various plotlines, Animal Kingdom wanders and surprises right up to the closing credits.

Availability: Animal Kingdomis available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix, and for rental or purchase from the major digital services.

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