Directed and Written by: Bart Layton
Produced by: Katherine Butler, Mary Jane Skalski, Derrine Schlesinger, Dimitri Doganis
Director of Photography: Ole Bratt Birkeland
Editor: Nick Fenton
Starring: Evan Peters (Warren Lipka), Barry Keoghan (Spencer Reinhard), Jared Abrahamson (Eric Borsuk), Blake Jenner (Chas Allen II) and Ann Dowd (Betty Jean Gooch).
American Animals is a different kind of heist film that plays out in the style of a documentary shown like a suspense thriller.
The film’s based on the true story of four college students who decide to rob the special collections library of Spencer’s college, housing incredibly rare books including Audubon’s Birds of America valued at $10 million dollars. In broad daylight.
Writer and award-winning director, Bart Layton (winning the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut for The Imposter (2012)) utilises the techniques of documentary by basing his script on interviews with the four robbers, Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Eric Borsuk and Charles “Chas” Allen II and their families and victim of the heist, librarian, Betty Jean Gooch.
He includes the interviews in the film, the facts and post-crime analysis with the guys recounting each of their unique perspective alongside the dramatization of actors playing the parts, sometimes repeating immediately what was said by the real-life person. Which could have been repetitious but instead added this interesting layer to the film that Layton uses to create something more than just a documentary or just another heist movie.
It was like putting distance between who the guys are now compared to the people who planned and ultimately committed the crime.
The fantasy of successfully pulling off a heist shown by actors added to the vision of how they saw themselves to cut to the reality of what they had actually done and how it felt, crossing a line that can never be uncrossed.
‘This is the History of Demolition’ says a poster on the wall of Spencer Reinhard. It stuck with me as the fantasy of pulling off a heist in the middle of the day, to steal rare books worth millions, starts to get way too real. It’s like watching Spencer’s life fall apart.
The film shows each perspective by interviewing the guys separately – each having their own reason for taking part in the crime: rebellion, life experience, money, boredom.
There’s a scene when Warren and Spencer are talking about the planning in the early days, where Spencer is waiting for something to happen in his life to give it meaning, ‘Like what?’ Warren asks.
‘Exactly. Like what.’
It seems easy fun: the planning, travelling to New York to meet a Fence, the drawing of blue prints, the stake-outs where Eric, an accountant major, who plans to join the FBI, takes to the planning of the heist like a fish in water.
As Warren says, it’s a, Take the blue or red pill, moment.
It’s the adventure they’ve all been looking for.
And it makes for a great story like an Ocean’s film but with young guys in college, sussing it out like idiots looking up how to rob a bank on Google.
And there’s thought into the way the shots are taken, the opening up-side-down, the cutting from character to real person; a face in front of a computer seen behind the text on screen.
Yet more than the clever cutting of imagery, the matching of each actor to each part was uncanny, and a successful technique because the splicing between the real and the drama works on a completely different level. Which also says something for the actors such as the familiar faces of Evan Peters (I’m fast becoming a fan and may have a crush) and Barry Keoghan, another one to watch and last seen in the, The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
The film is a solid package that has a cool soundtrack (‘The Doors’, Peace Frog for example), is visually creative and has a fascinating story, with suspense, humour, intrigue, adventure while also showing the toll taken when crossing the line from fantasy to stark reality.
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