Review: American Animals

Title: American Animals
Rating: R
Director: Bart Layton
Starring: Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk
Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

What It Is: Directed by Bart Layton (“The Imposter”), the film tells the true story of four misguided college boys in Kentucky who plotted to rob a multi-million dollar collection of rare books from their University in 2004 (the crime was dubbed the “Transy Book Heist”).

What We Think: Some would say the real American Dream is to get rich fast, and nothing brings a windfall of wealth like an old-fashioned robbery. Many a film has romanticized the idea of the heist in precise detail, from months of careful plotting to the perfect clean getaway to living the rest of your life lounging on a sun-soaked tropical paradise. That’s where the fascinating drama/documentary hybrid “American Animals” finds its originality (and its hook): it’s about the consequences of a wrongdoing, the reality of the supposed “perfect plan,” and the inconsistent viewpoints of all concerned.

Biased storytelling and the unreliability of memory are key ideas at play here, as this intelligent documentary blurs the lines between reality and fiction. The film is framed with brief interviews and recollections from the real-life men peppered between fantastic dramatic scenes (and equally compelling performances from Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson, Blake Jenner, and Ann Dowd). This device is crafty, cagey, and wildly effective, never taking the viewer out of the moment. It feels more like an entertaining work of fiction than a talking heads style doc.

Even more remarkable is that the film portrays the devastating emotional effects of committing a crime, from the stifling regret to the ensuing paranoia and finally the eventual longing to get caught. That’s not something you see in most romanticized Hollywood heist films, and it’s utterly compelling.

Finally, the editing was superb as it cut between the real-life counterparts and the drama and this was done effortlessly and I have to say the score was superb, the scene where Johnny Thunder played on the radio was a particular highlight, ‘I’m Alive!’ mirroring the optimism for adventure we feel from the characters.

Our Grade: A, This is an engaging true crime film that’s all about contradictory perspectives and is also thoroughly entertaining. And if you’ve ever daydreamed about plotting a burglary of your own, it will remind you that you probably aren’t as smart as you think you are. Not many of these types of films will leave you feeling empathy for the ‘bad guys’ but this will as the real-life criminals show real remorse and regret their crime, this aspect really surprised me and was quite emotional at the end especially with a superb score over the top of it.

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Lee Rothery Written by: