- 07 Sep 18
This entertaining heist film examines entitlement, truth and crime.
In 2012, Bart Layton directed The Imposter, a groundbreaking documentary about conman Frederic Bourdin that played with the ideas of identity and intention. Layton returns to these themes in American Animals, a meta, genre-bender heist flick that’s one of the year’s most entertaining, insightful and surprising films.
Based on a true story, Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters play Spencer Reinhard and Warren Lipka, two fiercely ordinary college students searching for meaning, adventure, and a way to become exceptional. When the two casually, hypothetically discuss how stealing rare books from the library of Transylvania University would be both easy and profitable, it seems like nothing more than mischievous musing. But suddenly plans are being drawn, disguises donned and two other young men have joined them, ready to become criminals and change their lives forever.
Layton superbly evokes both emotion and action, working with his fantastic actors to create portraits of young men fuelled by ennui and entitlement – a belief that they deserve wealth and infamy, without effort or consequence. Their collective ego and lack of accountability is infuriating, but as the robbery approaches, their youth and immaturity becomes empathetic, as the heart-pounding tension rises and their fear and guilt becomes almost nauseating to watch.
American Animals would be an enthralling thriller on its own – but Layton characteristically ups the ante. He intercuts the action with interviews with the real thieves, now in their late twenties and early thirties, sombrely reflecting on their youthful impulsivity. Their recollections and interpretations of events vary, and Layton turns the fragile nature of memory into a fourth-wall-shattering flourish, changing the appearance of characters or the sequence of events mid-scene to accommodate the conflicting accounts, heightening the absurdity of the already preposterous plan.
Layton styles the heist the way young men would imagine it – with slick, zippy visuals, dialogue lifted from Reservoir Dogs, and a killer Spotify soundtrack. But as the men learn, violent crime isn’t fun, or glamorous – it’s terrifying and anxiety-laden and ultimately, doomed. But my god, is it fun to watch.