Time: 116 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence, drug use & offensive language
Evan Peters as Warren Lipka
Barry Keoghan as Spencer Reinhard
Blake Jenner as Chas Allen
Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk
Udo Kier as Mr. Van Der Hoek
Ann Dowd as Betty Jean Gooch
Director: Bart Layton
Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) are four friends who live an ordinary existence in Kentucky. After a visit to Transylvania University, Lipka comes up with the idea to steal the rarest and most valuable books from the school’s library. As one of the most audacious art heists in U.S. history starts to unfold, the men question whether their attempts to inject excitement and purpose into their lives are simply misguided attempts at achieving the American dream.
I had been hearing some small but noticeable attention for American Animals. The only names that I recognised were that of actors Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters and I knew that it was a heist movie based on a true story. Not a lot of people have seen the movie but the people who have really praised it heavily. After finally seeing the movie I can see why it has been receiving all the acclaim, especially with the performances and the way the story was told.
American Animals opens not with a message saying “This is based on a true story” but rather “This is a true story”, and it really does live up to that. It is worth noting that the director Bart Layton has made documentaries in the past, which has clearly influenced his way of telling the story. This movie has had some interesting ways of telling its story. Something that wasn’t shown in the trailers is that it’s partly retelling a story while also having documentary parts to it, with the real 4 people appearing on screen, mostly in an interview style to give commentary about their thoughts at the time and about what happened. Something I also liked is how it showed how some differently the real life people saw what happened, acknowledging the grey areas of what happened and that you have to pick and choose which you think happened (though the differences in perspectives were mostly focussed on smaller things). This can be a little jarring for some people but it mostly worked for me. I guess the only times that went a little too far is when the real life people interacted with the actors, that was a little too much but fortunately we don’t get a ton of that. The first half of the movie is very fantastical as the 4 main characters are planning out the heists. These people are shown to be amateurs with them using movies as a way to figure out how to perform the heist, they even give each other codenames at one point like in Reservoir Dogs. It’s fun to see them try to plan everything and it all feels like everything is going to go as planned. The second half of the movie however turns drastically realistic and darkly serious, when the actual heist happens. As comedic and entertaining as the first half is, the second half is very tense. These characters are not prepared for their situation and it all falls apart. All around the movie manages to be both thought provoking, yet entertaining as well.
The major characters are really the 4 main leads played by Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jennifer. All of them are great with Peters particularly standing out. They do a good job at not necessarily making them likable but fun and interesting to watch. They each have their own motivation, while they are trying to get money out of the heist, they really have their own personal reasons for doing all this. They particularly shine in the last half when the heist becomes really messy.
As previously mentioned, Bart Layton has made documentaries in the past, and so he brings his filmmaking style to this story. His direction is one of the most stand out parts to the movie and part of the reason it works so well. It is very stylistic and as previously mentioned it does a good job at portraying ‘true events’, with it also cutting between the actors and the real life people. The editing was a big part of why the movie worked so well, some of the best editing of the year. The tone in the story is complimented by the direction, the first half being fantastical, and the second half dialling up the tension level to 11, with the actual heist being incredibly stressful, its really like you’re right there with the characters.
American Animals is a surprising movie, with great performances and a unique take on the ‘based on a true story’ type of movie. It also features some of the best directing and editing in a film this year. Unfortunately, not enough people are seeing it, and if you haven’t you really should, it might be one of the surprise best films of 2018.