Playing like a more intellectual and more comprehensible Pain & Gain, Bart Layton’s American Animals is a clever adaptation of a true crime involving young unconventional thieves who fear their lives are aimless. They decide to be proactive by organizing a score that would later be known as one of the most audacious heists in U.S history.
The opperation is led by Spencer and Warren (Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters), two students who channel their angst towards a score on some priceless books to sell to dealers overseas. Using movies as their blueprint, they devise a plan using undercover tactics to test the validity of their robbery, followed by their actual crime. Like the movies the boys are inspired by, American Animals is a film with style, driven with heady vigor and a dash of dark humour. However, as the crime elements develop more of a grounded reality for our fumbling leads, American Animals focuses on the long-term psychological effects of amateurs pursuing illegal activity; especially when they see the immediate effects on an innocent bystander (Hereditary’s Ann Dowd).
Writer/director Bart Layton weaves the narrative with documentary segments featuring interviews with the real subjects as they each tell their side of the story – discrepancies and all, which is reflected cunningly well by editors Nick Fenton, Chris Gill, and Julian Hart. Layton also earns points for thinking outside-the-box by using the movie we’re watching as a framing device for the real subjects to realize that in the grand scheme of life, this operation that was supposed to be meaningful may be trivial at its core. While that may sound like a twisted trick for the filmmaker to play on its subjects, the audience can see that Spencer and Warren – in their stoic presence – most likely agree with that thesis.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie