American Animals


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Jared Abrahamson, Evan Peters, Blake, Jenner and Barry Keoghan in American Animals - Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in US history.
"As a cinematic first the audacity and imagination of Bart Leyton's way of working breaks new ground" | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

The gang. The plan. The heist. The getaway.

It's clever. You like clever. It's what makes this stuff interesting. OK, what's next? The going wrong. The cops. The chaos. The fear.

Take a solid. Take a breath. What if... this isn't a Based On movie. This is something so cool it makes you shiver. It's not a doc. It's a droc. Writer/director Bart Leyton has recreated an infamous burglary of John James Audubon's Birds Of America and a first edition of Darwin's On The Origin Of The Species from a university library in Kentucky by four kids - late teens/early twenties? - while interviewing the actual thieves, now fully grown and free to speak.

The mixture of real life and dramatised memory succeeds better than you can possibly imagine. As a cinematic first the audacity and imagination of Leyton's way of working breaks new ground. His previous outing, The Imposter, caused similar excitement, making this little known Englishman an international name.

The rookie thieves in American Animals are caught up in the idea of what they intend to do and so watch old films, such as Kubrick's The Killing, for clues.

"Make your life special."

"Like what?"

Pulling off something of this intensity will make the confines of their straight up, straight boring existences disappear in a puff of... adrenaline dust?

"Winners never quit," someone says.

Winners? They are the amateurs' amateurs, baby plotters in a tough game.

"What's a fence?"

"A guy who buys stolen shit."

One of them flies to Europe to meet a couple of dodgeball oldsters in a Godard bar to discuss the fencing. Did this really happen? It's too bad - as in badass - to believe.

They have plans. They study the options. They check out the venue. They analyse the security. They decide on disguises because that's what a gang did in another movie. And then they have a trial run, after which they change the plan. They have doubts. They talk about it. They decide they've come this far... and then they do it.

If this was fiction it would be labelled comedy. Because it actually happened it has no label. It is itself, an act of courageous insanity.

Reviewed on: 02 Sep 2018
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Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in US history.
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Director: Bart Layton

Writer: Bart Layton

Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Lara Grice, Jane McNeill, Whitney Goin, Udo Kier, Wayne Duvall

Year: 2018

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Sundance 2018

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