DIRECTOR: bart layton (the imposter)
STARRING: evan peters, barry keoghan, Jared Abrahamson, and Blake Jenner
REVIEWER: lyall carter
Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk and Chas Allen 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.
Like it or not when you head off to the movies you usually have a set of expectations due to be exposed to the movie on a variety of platforms. For whatever reason I hadn't really been exposed to much surrounding American Animals. Going into it I had no expectations whatsoever. And boy was it good!
American Animals follows the true story of four ordinary university students as they plan to steal some of the rarest books from the school library. They have to set up buyers for the stolen work, set up the heist itself, and attempt to get away without a trace. What unfolds is nothing short of chaotic.
What makes American Animals stand out from the rest of the heist teen angst film crowd is the attention to the characters and the pacing of the plot throughout. There is exposition and character development throughout but never at the expense to the building and ratcheting up of tension during the heist. You feel like you stared deep within the souls of the characters; that you know them intimately.
This is helped by the craft behind the telling of the story. Director Bart Layton in his feature length fictional debut does a superb job by not only unfurling the story at a measured pace but adding some unique and fresh touches to this story's telling.
Layton includes the real life people that this film is based on within the movie itself with both recollections of events being played out in front of you even though they are contradictory. But at no time does the appearance of the real life people distract in any way from the narrative of the story. In fact it completely complicates it adding a depth of believability to the story. Expect to see this technique to be used more often by film makers in the future.
There are other little flourishes with the score matching a character tapping some ornaments on a table and clever little edits and cross fades that give you the sense that this film was crafted with the upmost care and attention.
The ensemble cast were terrific but its Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan that are the standouts here each giving nuanced and commanding performances.
An 'art house' film for the masses American Animals is a heist movie with heart and thrills.