Director Bart Layton mixes fact with fiction, telling the story of four young men who audaciously attempt to steal one of the rarest books in America from their Kentucky university library. American Animals combines a crime drama with documentary segments - "This is not based on a true story" appears on the screen until the words "not based on" vanish, leaving us with a humorous sense of confusion. The happy fact though is that American Animals doesn't really know the truth either.
This quirky but simple heist movie strikes gold as it zigzags between documentary and fantasy. There are some films we see from time to time that feel unfinished, with blatantly sloppy craftsmanship, but American Animals is so well composed you simply can't ignore the talent behind the editing.
We see the real four men - played by Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner - during interviews. Often the world of fiction and reality converge, wether it be a line spoken by the "real" Spencer Reinhard becoming relevant in a scene with the imagined Spencer Reinhard, or a documentary action following through to the dramatisation. Layton hits the jackpot as his polished and sharply edited feature balances multiple different truths and weaves them into a unusual, fictional reimagining.
The four men target prized books in their university library - most specifically John James Audubon's Birds of America. From beginning to end this heist flick uses the striking imagery of the birds to reflect each of the young men - the brutal means they took to seize the book - reinforcing the film's title "American Animals". Contrastingly it's also a crime story that truthfully portrays its characters motivations - of four teenagers who simply feel they are existing without any purpose. They naively think pulling off a Hollywood movie style heist will inject their lives with a little more thrill and excitement.
There are lots of intelligent filmmaking techniques that make American Animals more than just a crime drama. Layton's bizarre spin on the biopic genre makes for a hugely entertaining and inspired flick, tossing various perspectives into one big cinematic pot of gold. The four actors make convincing versions of the real life men, even if their stories don't match up, for some odd reason...
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.