Harry Shepherd-Smith dissects Jacki Weaver's maliciously masterful performance in Animal Kingdom
As a direct result of the catastrophic failure of Suicide Squad, despite the cast’s headline-grabbing research into psychopathology, any actor who claims to have explored the machinations of dark and damaged minds in preparation for a film will likely be met with a wary roll of the eyes. In 2010 however, Jacki Weaver proved that exacting analysis of behavioural science can translate into a performance which is equal parts compelling and terrifying. The brilliance of her performance lies not in the histrionics of more famous screen psychos (like the pantomime dame Hannibal Lecter), but in the subtle mimicry of a genuine psychotic seamlessly blending in. The brilliance of Weaver’s Janine revolves around the demands her performance being twofold: she not only plays a character, but she acts in turn as a character who is actively playing the part of a functional person themselves.
Weaver’s Oscar-nominated genius aside, what makes Janine so chilling is the specificity of our first impressions. We are presented with a grotesque parody of motherhood until act three, as her uncomfortably close relationship with her sons gives us reason to mistrust her. The revelation that she orchestrated the family’s crime operations from the beginning is more effective for this dynamic, as knowing that we were right to reject her, just for the wrong reasons, subverts the tawdry rug-pull of ‘you thought she was OK? Wrong!’ that less capable writers than David Michod might have relied on.
Janine’s demure power is also what makes her so ghastly, as throughout the film her five-foot-nothing frame is juxtaposed by gun-wielding, gym bunny alpha males. Despite being one of the only characters in the entire film not to brandish a weapon at some point or another, Janine is able to emerge unscathed at the end, having played everyone for fools – just as a real-life psychopath would.
What distinguishes her from other emotionally stunted matriarchs (looking at you, President Coin) is the hideous glee she takes in tyrannising everyone she touches. Any person who feels she is in some way redeemed by her love for her sons need first take another look at the penultimate scene of the film, in which she mercilessly taunts Detective Leckie in front of his wife, or her smug rictus smile as she blackmails Randall. This is not a woman whose maternity comes from decency; the utter horror of Janine’s character is that while her love for her sons is her driving force, it is effectively an extension of her love for herself. And that inherently human desire is something truly terrifying.