Thursday, June 28, 2018

Movie Review: "American Animals" (2018)

Director: Bart Layton
Year: 2018
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

A group of college students hatches a plan to steal some rare books from the Transylvania University library's special collections room.
"I felt like he was fishing and I took the bait." (Image Source)
"American Animals" opens with the line "This is not based on a true story...this is a true story." From that moment on, we knew we were in for something great. This film is written and directed by Bart Layton, who up until now has only directed documentaries, including the extremely riveting "The Imposter." It's fitting that a documentary filmmaker is the one taking on this story due to the manner in which it is approached. The film is about a group of four college students named Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson), and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner), who devise a plan to steal some rare books from Transylvania University's special collections and archives room. In a unique twist, the story itself is told by the actual men who committed the crime back in the early-2000's. This is done through documentary-style interviews, which are reenacted in various different ways showing how each member of the group remembers the events in question.
"This would be very dangerous or very fucking exciting." (Image Source)
It's rare to see a true story told in such a manner. Most films based on true stories take massive liberties with facts to add extra drama into the mix. As they say, sometimes life is far stranger than fiction. Such is the case with "American Animals," which shows four college students on paths to greater things throw everything away for an exciting criminal adventure. This film is extremely engaging and very humorous at times. We watch the men involved in this heist bumble their way through planning a big robbery, gaining inspiration from crime capers like "Reservoir Dogs" as well as websites literally called "how to pull off the perfect crime." As the movie moves along its runtime, it gets really intense towards the third act. We were often on the edge of our seat because the tension is so palpable.

We didn't know anything about the true story this film is depicting, but it is really fascinating, especially concerning Bart Layton's directorial choices. He juxtaposes the actual people involved in the heist with the actors who play them in the reenactment. We cannot recall seeing this happen very often in cinema. Layton uses some interesting filmmaking techniques to show how everyone involved remembers the same incident in a different way. Memories aren't always completely reliable, and Layton weaves his narrative through both perspectives effortlessly, taking inspiration from "The Imposter" to craft a fresh, new heist film. As we learned about these characters, we even began to empathize with them a little bit as they take full responsibility and show a clear regret for their actions. Maybe we felt this way because each of the actors playing these real men gives a fantastic performance. They all have excellent chemistry with one another. They manage to make these men very likable despite that they are planning on robbing a university's most prized possessions.
"You really want to come all this way and not find out what happens next?" (Image Source)
"American Animals" is the complete package. It is full of tremendous acting and interesting directorial choices. The movie feels seamless and somehow rejuvenates a stale genre as it differentiates itself from a sea of films just like it. We wound up really enjoying this movie and think it is a must watch for anyone who has the opportunity to do so. We can't wait to see what Bart Layton does next.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.6/10
RT Rating: ~86%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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