American Animals tells the true story of four students who embark on the most audacious heist in U.S. history. They soon learn that the perfect heist is a work of fiction. This is how it all happened. Or so they say.
It’s 2004 in Kentucky when we first meet Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan). Spencer is an incredible artist, but fears that he will never be appreciated in his lifetime unless he endures real tragedy. On his induction to the special collection section at Transylvania University library Spencer concocts an outlandish plan to make his dreams of fame and fortune a reality.
The campus library houses a book worth twelve million dollars with the only real security being an elderly librarian. All it takes is a chat with fellow student and all-round trouble maker Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) and the plan to carry out the one of the biggest literary crimes in history is in progress.
After bingeing on one too many heist movies the duo become convinced that they can easily carry out the robbery, they just need more man power. So they enlist the help of Erik Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner). With Erik’s quick wits and Chas’ even faster driving the skills they have the ultimate heist team. Right? Wrong.
What starts off as a fun exploit with ridiculous disguises soon turns nasty. We get to watch as they embark on the thrill of their lives. Their desperation to seek out a life-changing experience comes true, but not in the way they imagined.
From the opening credits it’s clear that this heist thriller means business. The tale of the heist is recalled to us by the real life perpetrators and their families interspersed with a talented cast playing out the events surrounding the robbery 14 years ago.
When you consider that the director and writer is Bart Layton it immediately makes sense. Layton is responsible for the chilling documentary The Imposter. If you haven’t watched it then put it on your list.
But I digress, back to the matter at hand.
Evan Peters plays his role of unpredictable stoner Warren with perfection. In true Warren style he steals the show from Spencer played by Barry Keoghan.
The cut away scenes with the characters’ real counterparts recalling their version of the events 14 years on is pure cinematic genius.
As ever on Ruthless On Film I won’t give away any spoilers but know this, there are scenes so tense, so gripping that I could hardly bare to watch. For a movie that gladly acknowledges that it’s a cinematic version of real life events throughout to then being able to absorb people in the story that much is incredible. Now that is a great script.
Check out my conversation with director and writer Bart Layton on Twitter.
You should also check out the official soundtrack for American Animals too. It’s pretty sweet.
American Animals is out in the UK on 7th September 2018. This review was written as part of a preview held by Odeon.
By Ruth Walker