Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) are four friends who live an ordinary existence in Kentucky. They plan, from watching old crime movies, to to steal the rarest and most valuable books from the university’s library that are worth $12 million or so. The film unfolds, documentary style with the real men (other actors) re-telling the stories in flashback. Writer/director Bart Layton, redoes the similar style of his hit 2012 documentary THE IMPOSTER which had won him a BAFTA Award.
“We must suppose that AMERICAN ANIMALS – slowly migrated by successive generations from the outer world to the deeper and deeper recesses of the Kentucky caves.” These words inform the audience right at the start of the story.
One can tell from the film’s start AMERICAN ANIMALS is not going to be the ordinary run-of-the-mill heist film. It begins with the word “Based not on a True Story” followed by the fading out of the words followed by the word ‘not’ faded out. Which implies that this fictional tale cold very be a true one. Or a true tale that could be fiction.
“There was nothing in that background that would suggest something like that might happen. They were pretty good kids.” says the teacher at the start of the film, as a teen puts up blue make-up around his eyes, for a disguise to commit a heist.
There is a segment in the film when the director demonstrates a textbook example on how to life the spirit of an audience. This includes arousing music, dancing and other scenes involving throwing caution to the wind.
Well written with lots of movie references, the film’s best line after they discover the enormous value of their loot: “We need a bigger boat.” Another involves Eddie trying to convince his friend to decide whether to be in or out of the venture without disclosing any details of the it: “This is your red or blue pill moment.” The RESERVOIR DOGS nod is also surprisingly funny. Another well-written set-up involves Eddie being bright into the Dean’s office for a pep talk which turns around once Eddie turns the tables on the talk.
As one character, the professor talks about the robbers in his classroom, the chalk scribblings on the board in the background make intriguing details that might give some additional insight into the film. These are the details and little nuances that make AMERICAN ANIMALS stand out from the many heist films. Needless to say, the film is often smart, funny and fresh.
Barry Keoghan plays Spencer, one of the robbers. Keoghan was discovered by director Yorgos Lanthimos in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER and was last seen in Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK. He has that special look of a disturbed youth. I would see any film Keoghan is in, he being one of the brightest new presence in films. Actor Udo Kier who is fond of playing odd characters has a cameo as a ‘fence’, the person who guys valuable questionable goods.
AMERICAN ANIMALS is funny, fresh, smart and original while still playing homage to classic films.