American Animals
5/5 MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Bart Layton
prd Katherine Butler, Poppy Dixon, Dimitri Doganis, Derrin Schlesinger, Mary Jane Skalski
with Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier, Gary Basaraba, Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen, Eric Borsuk, Betty Jean Gooch
release US 1.Jun.18, UK 7.Sep.18
18/US Film4 1h56
American Animals
A simple heist: Keoghan and Peters

jenner dowd kier
sundance london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
American Animals A true original, this riveting film combines comedy, drama and documentary to recount the story of a real-life heist. Building on the acclaim of his inventive documentary The Imposter, writer-director Bart Layton depicts characters and events in such a fresh way that the audience can't look away. Not only are the people sympathetic, but what they do is simply impossible to predict, which adds a tension most bigger movies can never muster.

In 2003 Kentucky, bookish artist Spencer (Keoghan) and his chucklehead buddy Warren (Peters) concoct a crazy plan to steal a collection of extremely valuable books from their university library. With no idea how to do this, they consult brainy friend Eric (Abrahamson) and wealthy body-builder Chas (Jenner), whose cash can fund the caper. The books are only guarded by one librarian (Dowd), so they think she should be easy to deal with. And Warren works out a way to fence the stolen books to a buyer in Amsterdam (Kier). What could possibly go wrong?

Layton tells this story with a crackle of wit, using energetic editing and snappy dialog that never feels written. And what moves it into the next level is the juxtaposition of interviews with the real people, cutting in and out of the dramatised scenes to play with perspective and offer provocative comments about underlying motives, expectations and memory. Because as in I, Tonya, the way each person tells the story doesn't quite add up.

Peters is terrific as the ringleader, a fast-talking hothead who dives headfirst into each situation. But Peters is careful to offer glimpses beneath the bravado. In the other leading role, Keoghan gives Spencer plenty of quirky edges, underscored with a deep sensitivity. Jenner and Abrahamson deliver performances that are just as textured even if they're smaller in scale. And Dowd is as punchy as ever, especially in the film's unforgettable centrepiece sequence.

But Layton's trump cards are the five real people, who command the screen effortlessly, looking even better than their Hollywood counterparts and further blurring the link between reality and reminiscence. Indeed, Layton's salient point is that it's impossible to ever know the true story, even if it's told without wavering from firsthand accounts. And it's in this space that the film connects powerfully with the audience, raising big questions about personal responsibility and a get-rich-quick society even as it says something darkly profound about the nature of truth, justice and storytelling.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Jul.18

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