American Animals (2018)
Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.
I feel like I had to work extra hard to catch this movie in the theater (by going to another one). The Odeon showed it for what felt like ten minutes before pulling it due to lack of interest so I had to seek it out. It was worth it.
Based on the true story of four acquaintances who attempt to pull off an extraordinary heist based on a load of crime caper movies they’ve watched as homework, it’s a really interesting ride. Spliced with interviews with all the real life ‘characters’, including all four robbers, it builds up to the day of the robbery from its moment of conception.
The fictional Spencer (Barry Keoghan) works in a supermarket and is dissatisfied with his lot in life. Waiting for something to come along and render his existence special somehow, an idea is born the day he visits Transylvania University and sets his sights on John James Audubon’s The Birds of America as well as a collection of other rare books (including Darwin’s The Origin of Species).
Initially just intrigued that such rare artifacts could fetch such a pretty penny, Barry mentions it to his best friend Warren (Evan Peters) who takes a grain of an idea and runs with it. Warren himself is a wild card and you could argue is the main instigator of the plan, though he might deny it (and more or less does on camera via the real Warren Lipka).
The boys find themselves involved in a world they’ve never experienced before, taking meetings with fences and buyers (when Warren travels to Amsterdam), doing their research (all manner of heist movies, including Reservoir Dogs) and generally focusing all their attentions on their mission to steal the priceless books and sell them on.
When they realise they’ll need more help, they enlist the assistance of Eric (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas (Blake Jenner) though both are kind of reluctant participants, particularly when it comes to any sort of violence, a dash of which they’ll need to deal with the one person standing in the way of their prize – librarian Betty Jean ‘BJ’ Gooch (Ann Dowd).
Can they pull it off or are they doomed from the start? As the story gains momentum, the relationship these men share are tested to the max and they are forced to deal with their own individual feelings of guilt, failure and regret.
I bloody loved American Animals. I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t Evan Peters that initially pulled me in but I also love a good heist movie. Especially one based on a true story and one that examines four normal real life characters and their motivations. The whole concept of wanting that one incredible thing to happen is very relatable and the fact that we get to see interviews with their families reminds us of the consequences of their actions.
Barry Keoghan is amazing as Spencer and he sold his character to me the most. I really enjoy him as an actor, having really been creeped out by his role in The Killing of a Sacred Deer so I’m quite interested to see more of him.
Hereditary‘s Ann Dowd is great as always, though we don’t see nearly enough of her. During the will-they-won’t-they heist scene, she is heartbreaking in her vulnerability and it left me feeling genuinely uncomfortable. I definitely recommend this film which is subtly stylised in its look but also holds up as a dark and genuinely tense crime caper.