Animal Kingdom

A lot of Australian actors started their careers in Neighbours and have gone on to great things. One thinks particularly of Russell Crowe, who made a brief appearance in 1987), but also Jesse Spencer (currently in House) and Alan Dale (stalwarts of many US dramas like The OC and Ugly Betty).

But Guy Pearce is my favourite graduate from Ramsay Street – he has been brilliant in lots of films like LA Confidential, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Memento and (most recently) The King’s Speech.

But I don’t think he’s ever been better than as the honest cop Nathan Leckie in Animal Kingdom, an underworld thriller loosely based on an infamous crime family in my hometown of Melbourne.

Melbourne is a funny place – it has a reputation of being a genteel and conservative city (at least by Aussie standards), but it has always had a dark underside.

A TV series called Underbelly, which was all about a decade-long gangland war in the city 20 odd years ago, was a massive hit back home recently and has also been shown over here.

But you need to be more my mum and dad’s generation to remember the Pettingills, the real-life family on which Animal Kingdom is based. And in particular Kath Pettingill, the matriarch who singlehandedly gave birth to a crime family.

Anyway, the story of the film in brief is that a teenager orphaned when his mother dies of a heroin overdose is taken under her wing by his gran, the Kath Pettingill figure (brilliantly played by Jacki Weaver).

This family is engaged in a bloody vendetta with the local police, many of whom seem to be on a moral par with the gangsters – and Josh stands between two equally repugnant sides playing for his soul.

Of course, it had a bit more resonance for me as it is set in a place I am very familiar with, but the way the actors bring the characters to life is what really stood out.

Weaver was nominated for an Oscar, but Pearce is (as I said) excellent, as is another Neighbours graduate Ben Mendelsohn as "Pope", a particularly violent member of a particularly violent family.

Click above to watch the official trailer.