“Animal Kingdom”
            “Animal Kingdom” has that gritty, hand-held feel of low-budget forays, and sure enough, we recognize hardly anybody on the screen, but all that anonymity somehow adds to the realistic dilemma of the main character:  “J” Cody (James Frecheville), a 17-year-old who is having to grow up way too fast.
            The story begins when J’s sitting in his living room, distracted by some silly game show, while his Mom appears to be asleep beside him.  But soon the paramedics arrive, and J tells them, practically without expression, that it’s a heroin overdose.    She’s already gone, and he simply considers what to do next. So “J” quietly calls grandmother, whom he obviously hasn’t seen in a while, and she offers to pick him up right away.
            “Smurf” (Jacki Weaver) is all smiles and bustle, “honey” this and “sweetie” that, but all that grandmothery veneer is a deceitfully effective mask for a very tough customer.  Basically, she’s the matriarch of a gang of hoodlums:  drug dealers and cold-blooded criminals, but she just asks everybody for a kiss and tries to keep a light atmosphere, no matter how dire the circumstances.  And they do become dire.
            J walks into the middle of a vendetta.  He lives with three uncles and the best friend of the oldest uncle, and all of them are thugs.  Then there are crooked cops, slimy lawyers, and devious detectives, and somehow “J” must navigate his way through this nightmarish maze, while still trying to figure out if his only family is worth claiming as his own.
            Be prepared for the brutal presented very casually.  And for a surprisingly sympathetic performance from the infamous Guy Pearce.
Questions For Discussion:
1)      When should you trust your family, and when should you not?
2)      When should you trust the police, and when should you not?
3)      When should you trust the court system, and when should you not?
4)      How do you keep your wits about you when all around you are losing theirs?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas