Everything you need to know about the film is in the opening scene: 17 year old J sits watching Deal or No Deal as his mother sleeps, or so it appears until the cops show up. Turns out she's dead of a heroin overdose. J proceeds to call his grandmother, Jacki Weaver's fantastically disturbing 'Mama Smurf' Cody, to figure out what do next. She brings him into her lion's den, and so J ends up in a surreal home where the matriarch not only enables her criminal grandsons in their lives of crime, but forces them to kiss her full on the lips (eww).
J quickly learns firsthand how dangerous the Cody world is, as his terrifying uncle drags him into the family business even while the cops turn up the heat, leading to bursts of extreme violence at the most unexpected moments. Let's just say that until the credits roll, no one is safe.
Jacki Weaver plays everything close to the vest until the final quarter of the movie, where she finally shows her true colours (they run blood red). It is the performance of a lifetime, where you don't even realize how subtly she's manipulating her family until all is revealed.
Actually, all the performances are great, especially Ben Mendelsohn as "Pope," the scariest, most ruthless member of the family. Every look he gives speaks danger, even when he's just offering to lend an ear after tragedy strikes. You don't want to take anything from him, because the cost will inevitably be too high.
Guy Pearce appears in yet another minor role (seriously I think he signs to these small indies just so the films can get funding), in a mustache from another century. He's J's only hope, and once we find out exactly how limited that help is, we truly understand the hopelessness of J's situation.
If I have one criticism of the movie, it's that it wraps up a bit too neatly. It's not so bad as to undercut the rest of the film, but it's definitely improbable. That said, it's a great movie, you should go see it! Am most pleased that Jacki Weaver got the token 'out of nowhere' Oscar nomination.