There is an intriguing new release arriving in theaters this month and it’s not “The Expendables” or “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” The winner of the Grand Jury World Dramatic Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Animal Kingdom” is an intense thriller set amongst a criminal family in Melbourne, Australia. Featuring impressive performances from Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton and Jacki Weaver, it is also noteworthy for being the directorial debut from former film film journalist David Michod.
It’s rare that an international film like “Kingdom” makes its debut at Sundance which is traditionally seen as more of a launch pad for American films), but when speaking to HitFix last week, Michod seemed unfazed by the picture’s success so far. That may be because he’s been working on the project for a good portion of his life and has had a good deal of time to make sure it turned out pitch perfect.
An original story, Michod says his inspiration for a drama centered on a crime family who slowly unravel while trying to outwit the police hit him as a youngster after moving from Sydney to Melbourne. In the late 80s, there was a concentrated campaign to rid Australia’s second largest city of numerous gangs of gun-toting bandits who were mostly robbing banks. Many of them took on almost celebrity status in a similar way that the Feds crackdown on the mob in Chicago in the 1930s turned John Dillinger into an unintentional hero (for those wondering, Michod says Sydney’s cops were much more corrupt and in bed with the local crime lords at the time). That generated an idea of a flick about an outsider (the matriarch’s teenage grandson played by newcomer James Frecheville) who is sucked into his older uncle’s schemes after the death of his mother who did everything she could to keep him away from their mischief. Entering the film’s second act is a kind policeman (Guy Pearce channeling a bit of Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon) who is trying to take down the family business while removing the obviously misplaced Josh from this dangerous world.
Like many indie successes, “Kingdom” defied the odds by shooting in just over 30 days, but looking slick and commercial enough that you would have assumed it took much longer and on a much larger budget (for a former journo, Michod was very coy on what the film’s actual cost was). This makes the filmmaker a talent to watch out for in the future and not just for “Kingdom” mind you. Michod also co-wrote the Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman Sundance entry “Hesher” which is on a completely different playing field than “Kingdom.” And while this pundit wasn’t a fan, it’s another example of Michod’s stylistic imagination at work.
You can check out more from “Animal Kingdom” in the five clips below. Be sure to pay attention to Jacki Weaver’s turn as the mamma bear in the crime family. She’s a stretch for any awards season love at this point, but her sassy turn will hopefully find her in the crosshairs of some Hollywood directors and casting directors down the road.
“Animal Kingdom” opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday. It will expand throughout the country in August and Sept.