THE ORCHARD / MOVIEPASS VENTURES (2018)

 

Director: Bart Layton

 

Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd

This isn’t a US-centric David Attenborough documentary.

 

Not quite. American Animals is based on the true story of a bizarre library heist that occurred at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in 2004. Directed by Bart Layton, the movie is a crime docudrama – the fictional events are fused with interviews with the real-life people behind the events (Layton’s 2012 movie, The Imposter, was presented in a similar fashion) – and revolves around the four young men involved – and one librarian as well.

Art student Spencer Reinhard (Keoghan) feels his life is going nowhere and craves meaning to motivate his artistic nature. When he mentions to his friend, Warren Lipka (Peters), about the extremely rare and valuable collection of books in the campus library, Warren takes this as inspiration to plan the perfect heist to steal the books, get rich and leave education for good. Roping in reluctant campus cohorts Eric Borsuk (Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Jenner), the plans are laid for the audacious effort.

 

The real-life heist itself was such a strange series of events. Attempting to steal pieces of US history from the University you attend armed with nothing more than a Taser, some cloth and a getaway car was surely never going to succeed, but headstrong (and high) teenagers will always try to find a way. The four leads are all great together, with Peters and Keoghan standing out – despite early fears that Peters would become irritable very quickly - and watching their on-screen antics mix with the real-life accounts was fascinating, especially for someone unaware of the central incident. A nod must go to Ann Dowd who, once again, is superb in a supporting role – playing her part in the movies most affecting scene. Having the real-life pro/antagonists appear lends the movie real depth that may have been missing had this been an original story. Hearing the actual accounts – conflicting at times – gave certain scenes real heft, especially in the frantic third act.

 

Despite running at nearly two hours, American Animals manages to thunder through its narrative – mainly due to the appealing chemistry, the flip-flopping between reality and fiction and the really engaging story. The movie jumps into the deep end fairly quickly, only spending a short amount of time with character intros before the organisation of the heist begins in earnest and the events start to unfold. Layton manages to convey a near-claustrophobic atmosphere at times, especially when the tension is ramped up and visually, this looks great – from actual cinematography to the interesting camerawork utilised. It’s chic crime caper.

 

Also, someone please teach Barry Keoghan how to eat with cutlery.

 

Don’t research the heist before watching this, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Backed by a killer soundtrack, American Animals is an exhilarating and bloody good movie from start to finish.

October 1st 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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