College students and friends Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) and Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) decide to go on a heist together. Their target is a collection of rare books owned by their university’s library. To pull this off, they recruit two others: Lipka’s friend Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson), and Spencer’s high school classmate Chas Allen (Blake Jenner). As things heat up to the day, Spencer begins to grow weary and constantly suspicious of Warren’s connections and overt enthusiasm to their plan.
Oh, and also we hear the real life people talk about this story alongside them. Should probably mention that upfront.
Yep. American Animals is a “true story” feature that actually gets the subjects of its story involved in interviews. Going further than a docudrama, as it plays out the entire story in fiction form whilst occasionally returning to thoughts and reflections of the people who were part of this act. This selling point is not just there as a gimmick either-it actually fits into the film’s themes of memory and legacy. You don’t have to ponder based on a short text what happened to these guys afterwards; they are here showing you how they feel about it!
There are even fun moments like one of the actors talking for his real-life counterpart, or them interacting with said counterparts. They’re sparse enough not to feel show off-y and add an extra layer of the unreliable narrator to the proceedings.
This is director Bart Layton’s first foray into feature territory, though brushed off it briefly with his 2012 debut The Imposter. There’s a lot of great blocking and symbolic reincorporation here, and this guy feels like an old pro. I was surprised that this was only his second feature.
Honestly, I feel like I’ve said too much about this flick already. It’s great: the acting is stellar (Evan Peters continues to be an electric presence any time he’s onscreen) and the concept is faultlessly implemented and incredibly compelling. This is one of the best and most innovative films I’ve seen all year. Go in knowing as little as possible about the outcome-the journey this takes you is a hell of a lot of fun. Through fact and fiction.