Animal Kingdom is an award-winning den of inequity, filled with lying murderers and thieves who rely on gut instinct and a well-oiled hierarchy to get things done.

The family is owned and operated by a nurturing mother who feeds her young but if the situation calls for it, she could also dislocate her jaw before consuming one of them.

The rules are similar to what we see in a Nat Geo doco on hyenas.

Jacki Weaver is just divine as the caring, controlling mum – nickname ‘Smurf’ and while I oscillated between wondering if the inspiration for her character was Judy Moran or Kath Pettingill, David Michod said none of the characters are specifically based on any real life people.  But Jacki said that even the Milat family could be thrown into the mix if we want to make comparisons.  I guess there are some similarities among all genetically-bound crime dynasties.  (I still think there’s some of the Pettingills in the characters.  Sully’s portrayal of Craig echoes reports of the behaviour of the deceased Dennis Pettingill.  What a good bloke he was – Google him.)

Throughout history in Christian religious art, the most sublime human relationship is held up to be that of mother and son – depicted most commonly as Madonna and child.

But when you go by the results, the ‘Virgin’ Mary wasn’t all that great a mum to Jesus.  He didn’t leave home til he was 30, he got mixed up with a bad crowd then ended up bashed, tortured and murdered by age 33.

Smurf’s achievements as a mum are kind of the same.

Writer / director David Michod has done a superb job bringing his first feature film to the big screen.  It’s taken 9 years and he did the smart thing of getting the movie to festivals before an Australian release.  Winning the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2010 meant the film could ride a tide of positive publicity all the way back to Australian cinemas.  And it’s worked.

All too often, Australian films get screened and released here first hoping that elusive fat first box office weekend happens so the resulting PR can secure overseas sales.  All too often, it doesn’t.

But the main question for the ticket buying public is – is Animal Kingdom worth $17 to see on the big screen?

You bet it is.

The criminal coming-of-age story also stars Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Ford and introduces James Frecheville.

James plays 17 year old Josh who’s had to move in with nanna (Smurf) and his uncles who run a family business of armed robbery.

It’s funny how, in a lot of family dramas, evil comes in the form of a wicked stepmother or a wicked uncle.  Ben, Sully and Luke play the uncles.  They’re not nice people – but it’s hard not to like them.

Interviewing the cast, I was surprised they said the script wasn’t funny to read because there are some very funny moments in the movie – but not one scripted joke which is a real achievement.

Amother of David Michod's achievements as director is creating a real feeling of claustrophobia in the house.  It feels like a den of prowling wild animals who can't get away from each other even if they wanted to.  The walls have ears and eyes because they are thin.  You can hear everything and see all the comings and goings.

The less you know about this movie going in, the more you’ll enjoy it.  There’s a constant feeling of dread as the mystery unfolds.  You might think you know what will happen next but you really don’t.

And you don’t want to.  It’s sooo much fun to be surprised again by a movie.