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American Animals Theatrical Review

By Jun 21, 2018 09:20 AM EST

American Animals is entertaining while answering the question most people have thought about at one time or another…If I tried to commit a crime, could I get away with it?

Why is it movies about heists always make it seem so easy as if anyone could rob a bank or armored car?  It promotes a false sense of hope as well thought out plans seem to go off without a hitch (well not always but you know what I mean).  It's not surprising then that four College kids decided, planned and executed a heist to steal valuable artifacts from the special collections library at Transylvania University in Kentucky. Unfortunately, unlike the movies, theirs was an imperfect plan that landed them in jail for the next seven years and had them labeled as convicted felons for the rest of their lives. Their story is chronicled in the new drama American Animals.

Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan; Dunkirk) grew up in a nice neighborhood in Kentucky and went to college as expected.  Along the way, he became friends with Warren Lipka (Evan Peters; American Horror Story) who was a bit more of a troublemaker.  When Spencer told Warren about the rare books housed in his school's library the two wondered what it would take to steal and sell them.  They thought about how rich they would be and what they could do with all that money…and then they started to plan.

Realizing they needed additional help they enlisted Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson; Travelers) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner; Glee) and the foursome plotted every detail of their heist.  Of course, there were complications.  Their plan to subdue the lone librarian, Betty Jean "BJ' Gooch (Ann Dowd; The Handmaid's Tale), with a taser didn't work and the books were heavier than they anticipated.  Their escape was hindered when the outside door in the basement of the building was nowhere to be found and their idea to take the books to New York to get authenticated for sale was thwarted when the appraiser wasn't there when they arrived.  Everything fell apart and they were eventually arrested.  A fantastical story for sure, except that it is true!

The actors do a terrific job portraying the middle-class college students who steal the books but the treats of this film are the moments in between the acting. Writer/Director Bart Layton (The Imposter) smartly infuses the film with interviews with the real-life perpetrators who tell their story from their perspectives.  The movie in this regard comes off as a television show where the parties involved tell the stories and actors dramatize the events – only must better done in this case. While Peters, Keoghan, Abrahamson and Jenner are enjoyable to watch, listening to Reinhard, LIpka, Borsuk, and Allen is fascinating.

The film moves at a good pace and the interchange between the dramatization and the real-life interviews flows well.  Neither jolts the audience out of the film which is good because it could it have come off disjointed but doesn't.  Of course, the subject matter is somewhat disheartening and infuriating but watching as a witness to see how their minds work is interesting and entertaining.  Of course, the real BJ Gooch says it best when she describes them as selfish though they don't come across as spoiled as they could have and that is in part due to Layton's writing.

These handsome, intelligent men evoke a level of sympathy as they tell their story while still enraging the audience to think they had the audacity to try and pull off a crime at all.  The film is entertaining while answering the question most people have thought about at one time or another in their lives…If I tried to commit a crime, could I get away with it?  In this case the answer is no and these men paid for it in more ways than just seven years of their freedom.  Makes you think…doesn't it?

Grade: B+

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MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 116 minutes
Distributed By: The Orchard

For more information about American Animals visit the FlickDirect Movie Database.

About Allison Rose

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