Starring: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson
Director: Bart Layton
Running Time: 116 mins
American Animals is an American film about the true story of a group of university students who attempted a hugely audacious heist on the library of Transylvania University, Kentucky, and the highly valuable books kept inside.
Although it’s not quite perfect, this is a very ambitious, entertaining and ultimately rather emotionally powerful heist movie that goes beyond what we see from more typical entries in the genre, by delving in extremely deep to the emotions of the people that were driven to committ a major robbery, and their reflection on it afterwards.
The central story of the film is similar to a normal heist, and in knowing that, the film takes a very impressive and unique leap to give you a different experience to sitting through yet another one of the same heist stories. So, rather than playing out as an entirely narrative drama, the film includes interviews with the real men who committed the crime, allowing us to listen to them detailing their deepest emotions and feelings at the time, as well as interesting insights on how the planning and execution of the robbery went down.
Now, it’s a very, very strange choice from writer-director Bart Layton to bring the real men into the movie – and not in any sort of comedic fashion as other films are more willing to do. However, as jarring and strange as that fourth wall break seems at first, it is actually a very bold decision that ultimately pays off very well.
From the beginning, we watch the story of young Spencer Reinhard, and his friendship with Warren Lipka that ultimately leads the two into plotting the heist of the century. That part of the movie works very well as a narrative drama, and sometimes the inclusion of those interviews can really throw you off, taking you out of the moment significantly. Although, they do provide a very genuine and strong emotional insight to the main characters that would likely not have been achieved through the screenplay itself.
I must say that the best parts of this movie are the parts where things are let a little bit loose, and there’s more focus on the narrative side of the story. While hearing the men’s stories are undoubtedly interesting and helpful to understand their psyche at the time, the way in which they are included does at times feel like you’re being spoonfed information to help you along in the movie.
On the other hand, when the heist eventually comes around in the film’s final act, the movie turns fully back to being a narrative drama, and that’s where the most intense excitement and drama comes, because it allows the film to get into a really good flow of tension and emotion that’s really impressive to see.
With that said, it’s the finale of the film that really brings an interesting and unique perspective to the film. After we see the heist unfold, the movie switches attention to the real men, as they give accounts on their deep feelings of regret and guilt, in a far more stark and genuine way than any actor could.
What’s most interesting about that ending to the film is the fact that most heist movies don’t have any indication of deep guilt and regret, with the inevitable change of heart from the criminals in the final act often coming down to some sort of generic moral epiphany that can often be a little forced and underwhelming.
This film, on the other hand, brilliantly utilises all of the stories that you’ve been told over the course of the movie, and all of the emotions and doubts of the men who were going to committ a great robbery, and then flips that back on them after the fact, something that brings out an incredible amount of emotion and power as the film comes to a close.
Overall, I was rather impressed by American Animals. It’s an exciting crime drama complete with a lot of depth and riveting emotion, as we hear from the real men who were a part of this incredible true story, and although the execution of the film’s most unique elements isn’t quite 100%, it’s a bold move that actually pays dividends come the end, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.