|AMERICAN ANIMALS (director/writer: Bart Layton; screenwriter: ; cinematographer: Ole Bratt Birkeland; editors: Nick Fenton/Chris Gill; music: Anne Nikitin; cast: Barry Keoghan (Spencer Reinhard), Evan Peters (Blake Lipka), Jared Abrahamson (Eric Borsuk), Blake Jenner (Chas Allan), Ann Dowd (Betty Jean Gooch), Udo Kier (Mr. Van Der Hoek), Gary Basaraba (Mr. Lipka), Lara Grice (Mrs. Lipka), Jane McNeill (Mrs. Reinhard), Wayne Duvall (Bill Welton), Barry Keohogan (Spencer Reinhard); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Mary Jane Skalski; New Amsterdam Film Company; 2018-USA/UK)|
|"The botched heist makes
for much suspense and slapstick comedy."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Brit filmmaker of TV documentaries Bart Layton ("The Imposter") stylishly films his first narrative film as sort of a docudrama. It's a heist film based on a true story, with the facts covered being questionable. It's based on the filmmaker's interviews with the four perps in the featured heist, who also appear in the film to tell their side of the story.
In 2004, in Lexington, Kentucky, students at the local Transylvania University -- Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) and Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) -- impulsively decide to pull off a robbery more for the thrill than the money. A plan is hatched for a robbery at the school's special collections library, where the boys plan to sneak the original editions of John James Audubon's Birds of America, as well as Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species, past the school head librarian (Ann Dowd). Additional help is gotten by recruiting fellow students Chas Allen (Blake Jenner), as the financial backer, and the brainy Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson). They plan to sell the priceless books on the black market through a fence (Udo Kier) in Amsterdam.
The thieves don disguises as old men, in gray wigs and fake gray beards, and cram for the heist by watching an assortment of heist films including Reservoir Dogs. The heist is planned during finals, with the thinking the school will be focused on that activity.
The botched heist makes for much suspense and slapstick comedy, but on the dark side the boys tied up, shot with a stun gun and blindfolded the librarian during the robbery.
The actual amateur criminals, 14 years later after their prison stay are released and appear in the film commenting on their youthful folly. Each with a different version of their crime, as they narrate their caper and often contradict one another. The real librarian, Betty Jean Gooch, also appears, and takes exception to how lightly the caper is treated on film when in actuality it was a harrowing experience for her.
Despite my misgivings for such a flimsy film, the rewards for the viewer come from the nuanced acting of Keoghan, the focus of the film, and Peters, who overcome the film's superficiality by their brilliant performances as irresponsible youths going too far over the edge to be excused for their criminal act. If nothing else, these fools prove the old adage "That crime doesn't pay."
REVIEWED ON 6/24/2018 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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