Out in the jungle, the strongest creatures prevail by preying on the weakest. In the gritty drama Animal Kingdom, this dynamic is played out within a tight knit family of bank robbers and drug dealers in mid-1980s Melbourne. At the top of the food chain here is mama lion Janine Cody, played for all her ferociousness by 2011 Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver.

The center of the story is 17 year-old Joshua whose junkie mom was a Cody. The film begins with him sitting on a sofa beside her waiting for the paramedics to come and pronounce her dead. With nowhere to go, he calls his grandmother Janine and goes to live with the crime family his mom had kept away him from. His uncles are currently lying low because the ruthless Armed Robbery Squad has a hit out for Uncle Pope who is in hiding. Joshua is just trying to get through high school and have a normal relationship with a girl, but soon the family business ensnares him in their dirty dealings.

Mama Cody is all smiles and hugs, but beneath her chipper facade lies a calculating beast. She kissed her sons on the mouth (a little too long) and barely registers any emotion when her children die. She always has a way of looking on the bright side of the situation. But then the police arrest the brothers, and they see right away that Joshua may hold the key to bringing down the family. Detective Lecky (Guy Pearce) tries to get through to him, but he is no match for Mama Cody who has a much larger arsenal of tricks up her sleeve.

Uncle Pope is hands down the creepiest one of them all and when he thinks that Joshua might be turning on the family, he decides to leverage the only person that Joshua has on his side, his girlfriend. This psychotic family would do anything for their own survival. There are many twists and turns and killings and you’re not sure who is on who’s side. Or who is going to kill who. But you will have to watch it to find out who wins in the end.

Animal Kingdom is clearly more of a rooster flick, but some chicks would probably appreciate it, too. You must be into gritty crime dramas with a stomach for creepy characters. And if you want to see a stellar performance, Jacki Weaver’s Janine Cody makes the mother in The Fighter look like Mary Tyler Moore.

[It is out on DVD now, so watch it before the Oscars, if you can.]

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