American Animals: Film Review

We have all seen countless films about heists or robberies – the recent Ocean’s 8 springs to mind – but somehow American Animals manages to feel different and exciting. I loved it. Rather than a film showing a slick robbery that seems impossible to pull off, American Animals is basically a guide of what not to do when planning a heist.

Barry Keoghan stars as Spencer Reinhard, an art student at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in 2003. One day he is given a tour of the university library’s special collections room, run by Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd), and tells his good friend Warren (Evan Peters) about the rare books inside – including John James Audubon’s The Birds of America and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – and they formulate a plan to steal them. They realise they need more people, so they add Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Charles ‘Chas’ Allen (Blake Jenner) to the team.

American Animals stands out from the usual heist fare because it’s told in a very surprising, dynamic and unique way, with the actors playing the real-life characters in the dramatisation besides scenes of the actual guys talking about the heist documentary-style. It was so interesting to hear their actual accounts, and sometimes their version of events would differ, so a scene with the actors would replay again with a certain disputed detail changed. It was fascinating. It also went a bit meta at times with the real person and his actor interacting in a scene. It was weird and jarring, slightly a step too far.

These guys are amateurs and have no idea what they are doing. Warren is dangerous and extremely persuasive so he manages to make them think he has everything under control when he really doesn’t. I really enjoyed watching them working out the kinks in the plan, figuring out how to overcome obstacles and showing how much effort actually goes into creating a plan that will actually work. Basically, learn from what these guys did and do the opposite!

This all builds towards the heist scene, which is beyond thrilling. My heart was pounding, I had my hand over my mouth and at one point I actually said “shit” out loud and I think the guy beside me heard. I was fully involved. I was nervous for them, nervous for the librarian, their main obstacle, and just freaking out.

I am a big fan of Peters and he was excellent as the scary and slightly unhinged Warren, who is determined to see it through even if things go wrong, while Keoghan was subtle but good as the nervous Spencer, who wants excitement in his life but is scared of the repercussions. I felt the most sorry for Eric, for reasons I won’t spoil, and it was weird to see Jenner following Glee, but it was cool to see him to do something different. Dowd is awesome in everything, but she doesn’t get much to do here.

I have nothing bad to say about American Animals. I thought it was awesome. It was refreshing to see a heist go so horrifically wrong after the slick and neat one in Ocean’s 8. The documentary style and differing accounts reminded me of I, Tonya a little bit, but getting the real guys involved added so much value and I was really interested in what they had to say. Fascinating and shocking stuff.

In cinemas Friday 7th September

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