American Animals Crime

Review: ‘American Animals’ is a Unique Tale of an Unlikely Heist

June 22, 2018Ferdosa Abdi

An inventive and intriguing crime drama about one of the most bizarre heists in American history, American Animals is based on a true story of a library heist. Yes, you read that right — fourteen years ago, a group of college boys decided to rebel against their suburban upbringings by conducting an elaborate heist at a university library.

Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) is presented as the ringleader, as he is the one who develops the idea after his childhood friend, Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), tells him about his trip to the special collections library at Transylvania University. The film is a blend of genres, with the most notable being crime drama and documentary, and writer/director Bart Layton plays with the conventions of a documentary by having the real-life guys talk about the heist in talking head segments throughout the movie, while the rest is a recreation based on the participants' recollections.

Layton has a history with documentaries and he brings those skills to this story, which allows the audience to get a better understanding of the how and the why. But the truth is, there is really no sense to make of any of it. The details of the actual heist are well documented, but the motivations and various details are still unclear. What can be surmised is that these four boys were just really bored and wanted something exciting to happen in their lives. They wanted something significant to occur so that they could start living, rather than just merely existing.

The heist itself may sound boring on paper, but the execution is rather intriguing. It is difficult to call it fun, however, as there was one person who was harmed as a result, but the whole thing is so absurd it's hard not to chuckle in places. Layton is acutely aware of the seriousness of the situation, though, and respectfully balances the tone of the film. And even though the four boys do eventually get caught, knowing that does not take away from the suspense that builds during the heist and its aftermath.

Layton has assembled an incredible cast to tell this story. The standout is Peters, who is always great in everything he's in, but here he is exceptionally great, bringing a subtle type of crazy to the walking series of contradictions that is this Warren character. Warren will always keep you guessing, and Peters does a great job not giving away all of the character's secrets. Likewise, the rest of the cast, including Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk, do a great job also. They don't try to impose what they think were the motivations of the guys they are playing; rather, their performances are very subtle.

There have been many heist movies, but not many have presented such a unique heist. American Animals stands out as one of the most compelling heist films in a long while, making this is a must-see for crime drama fans, whether you are planning your own heist or not.

American Animals releases June 22nd, 2018 from The Orchard. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material. Its runtime is 1 hr. 56 min.

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