American Animals Movie Review
American Animals. Great title. Poor payoff.
The very title—let alone the marketing and story—suggests something edgy, angry, and dangerous. Something you only want to poke with a stick from afar, that threatens to eat you alive.
Instead, we get a pretty vanilla and ultimately pitiful art theft attempt that masquerades as something more, a thriller that blends in documented interviews with the real people involved, artfully arranged to amp up the tension and suspense. Execution-wise, it’s not that far from director Bart Layton’s last film The Imposter, except American Animals is much less documentary than dramatized crime thriller (with a legit cast to boot)—and not nearly as good.
Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner star as four college-aged friends who decide to steal several rare books from a university library. In translation, they spend most of the movie shouting at each other.
And in reality, the most animalistic aspects of American Animals involves the four guys screaming at each other over and over again as their plans spiral out of control. While the actual heist sequence is pretty well done, it’s preceded by nearly an hour of boring lead-up that introduces the largely unlikely characters (the real-life individuals are much more colorful) and then quickly degrades into a series of shouting matches. The most interesting moments come in the film’s final minutes, as the characters attempt to cope with what they’ve done.
Layton seems fascinated with the crime itself, which makes sense, but American Animals may have worked better had he trimmed the early fat and played up the post-crime psychological elements he only hints at. Since the robbery itself is more or less a failure due to the boys’ inexperience and mistakes, exploring the paranoia- and guilt-fueled aftermath would have been more compelling.
American Animals isn’t without its positives, but the movie itself is a letdown, a surprisingly straightforward and generally forgettable film.
This movie was reviewed for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF 2018).<
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.