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Animal Kingdom

David Michôd's film debut follows 17-year-old Joshua and his psychotic family as he comes to terms with teenage life in Melbourne, Australia

Animal Kingdom is the hard-hitting, gruesome and troubling debut from director David Michôd based around a criminal family in Melbourne, Australia. After his mother’s suicide, seventeen-year-old Joshua is sent to live with a psychotic bunch of uncles and matriarchal grandmother, whose manipulative hold on her violent sons is brilliantly symbolised by the lengthy kisses of comfort she plants on their lips. Feeling both part of the family and at the same time totally removed from their moral outlook, Joshua struggles with these conflicts from behind an opaque expression that is near impossible to read. His stoicism wonderfully prevents the film from dictating an explicit judgement and also teasingly unveils the inner world of Joshua’s mind. As the thorn in the family’s side, and against a tide of corruption, Guy Pearce resists as upright cop, sporting a splendid ‘friendly uncle’ moustache.

Dazed Digital: Where did the story come from?
David Michôd:
When I moved from Sydney to Melbourne I became particularly fascinated by a couple of books by a guy called Tom Noble who used to be the Chief police reporter on The Age newspaper. He was there during the 80s charting the decline of armed robbery as a professional criminal pursuit. Whilst Animal Kingdom isn’t set in the 80s, there’s something wild and unusual about that particular period in Melbourne’s criminal history and knew from that point on I wanted to build a big Melbourne crime story.

DD: Was it difficult taking it out of the 80s if the criminal climate has changed so much?
David Michôd: It did feel like a delicate task, taking something that was quite peculiar to that period and placing it in a more contemporary setting, but there was something very particular about that period. Back when I was a kid banks in Melbourne were being robbed four or five times a week, that doesn’t happen any more. Plus I didn’t want to make a period film about silly haircuts and outfits and giant phones. I trusted that I could just slide that epoch a little bit and people would simply get lost in the story. I never set out to make a quasi-documentary about law an order in Australia, but I wanted it to feel authentic.

DD: Do you see Animal Kingdom as part of the significant heritage of Australian crime cinema?
David Michôd: I never really saw myself as being part of that heritage, but I’m sure I share a similar fascination and love of the source, which is a certain kind of Australian criminal vernacular.

DD: What do you see as distinctive about Australian crime films?
David Michôd: On an almost stereotypical level, there almost something about transplanting Australian nonchalance into quite heightened and dangerous world. That incongruity I think is always fascinating and often funny and is demonstrative of that delusion bravado.

DD: How important was it to have the central character as very insular and hard to read?
David Michôd: It felt very important to me. A lot of the direction to James throughout the film was reminding him how intimidating that world was, that walking into that room was like walking into a cage full of lions. And you want to be very quiet, and you want to not make eye contact, and you want to try your hardest to sit invisibly in the corner. Because that for me was a truthful expression of what that experience would be like.

DD: Guy Pearce’s moustache was inspired, as it’s a facial adornment usually used to indicate someone quite shifty. Was it the result of much discussion?
David Michôd:
You’re right, I remember when I was a kid my dad telling me to never trust a guy with a moustache. But when I started talking to Guy about the character, we both arrived at the same point, we wanted him to be slightly odd, at least to differentiate him from the other cops. Whilst that 'tache he carries is in many ways an archetypal cop moustache, in a more contemporary setting there’s something more anachronistic about it; it’s kind of an endearingly strange thing that he’s left hanging on his face.