‘American Animals’ Review: Don’t Feed The Animals

American Animals Review
out of 5

I love a good true crime story, especially a heist film. There’s something about watching the elements coming together throughout the course of the story, and beating back the urge to Google what really happened as it all unfolds. In the new film, American Animals, that urge reached epic proportions, as the crime and the criminals in this story seemed almost too unbelievable, but it was true. It was all true.

American Animals is the story for four young college students who come together to steal the contents of a special collections section of Transylvania University’s library. The collection includes the original art books by John James Audubon, as well as first editions of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. These books are valued in the eight-figure range, making them enticing to a group of budding criminals.

American Animals Review

Spencer (Barry Keoghan) is an art student already bored of the college experience. He tours the Special Collections and sees firsthand the books he will one day try to steal. He shares his idea with his buddy Warren (Evan Peters), a student athlete who is fed up with playing sports and dealing with a broken homelife. Warren takes the idea of stealing the books and runs with it, creating a plan. But they need help, so they add Eric (Jared Abrahamson), an accounting student hoping to one day join the FBI. The last piece of their puzzle comes in the form of the affluent Chazz (Blake Jenner), the driver who quickly takes on a bigger role in the scheme.

American Animals Review

The four men create a fool proof plan to get in and get out with the books, and even set up a fence (Udo Kier) in the Netherlands to sell them, making them instant millionaires. What could go wrong?

Turns out, everything.

American Animals features the real men in interviews peppered throughout the film, as well as friends, family and teachers, giving a unique context to the mindset of the four young wannabe thieves. Writer-director Bart Layton does an amazing job using these interviews and testimonials to frame the story on screen. This creates both humorous situations as well as white knuckle tension as the day of the robbery draws closer.

American Animals Review

Director Bart Layton uses the real people in their own words, integrated seamlessly into the film. Here, the real Warren tells a story as Evan Peters acts it out.

Layton and his cast and crew deliver a wonderfully enjoyable film about a crime that goes off rails — of course — and how the actions of these four men shaped and changed their lives, and the lives of all around them, forever. By the end of the American Animals, I felt that understood why they did what they did, and I even had some sympathy. It takes a deft hand to take an audience through a ride like that, and this film delivers.

American Animals is a cautionary tale, sure, but it’s also a funny, sad, and tense film that chronicles a perfect crime that was less than perfect, and it highlights how some bad decisions made in youth can echo well into adulthood. This is a film that will stay with me for awhile, and one that will be remembered later this year when awards season begins. I urge you to seek out American Animals, as it is one of the better true crime films to be released in years.

American Animals is rated R and is in select theaters now.

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