22
Jun
18

“Bored? Let’s Have an Art Heist!” Movie Review: American Animals

american_animals.jpg

Starring Ann Dowd, Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson, and Udo Kier. Directed by Bart Layton

Not your usual heist.

Our story begins with four men dressed to be much older. Waiting. For what we know from the trailers – they’re committing an art heist. Why? That’s the question the movie answers whether you’re satisfied with the explanations or not.

Following the titles we get into the characters: Spencer Reinhard, (Barry Keoghan), a sensitive art student who excels at illustration (painting, drawing). Lost in the mire of classes he’s lost purpose in his life to the point of asking himself why he bothers with fraternity hazing. Stepping in to fill that void is Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), a guy whose credo is “fly by the seat of your pants.” Both are students at Transylvania University in the fall/winter of 2003. One day while visiting the University’s Library he enters their rare book collection and finds books of value which sparks a question: what would it be like to steal the book, sell it for money, and live off the cash? The purported value of said rare books is somewhere over $17 million…

So begins the plot, or rather journey, the characters take to commit an art heist that no one saw coming. Warren brings in other friends: the smart loner Erik Borsuk (Abrahamson) and Alpha-personality Chas Allen (Blake Jenner). Erik is there to help with the planning, Chas because he has money and winds in being their getaway driver (in a minivan, nonetheless). Cautiously and meticulously they observe the times to get into the Library, exit strategies, and etc. while teaching themselves how to commit a heist (including a scene from one of my favorites, “The Killing”)

If you know anything of the story you know that they pulled it off, were found out by the FBI, and sentenced to 7 years in Federal Prison. What you don’t know is how and why, which is where director Bart Layton steps in. Interspersed with the scenes of the actors going through the steps are “retrospective” shots featuring the REAL Warren, Barry, Erik, and Chas along each major beat of the story offering their perspective explanation as to what was going on (sometimes conflicting). It reminded me a lot of “When Harry Met Sally” or more importantly, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” whereby others, including the librarian who was subdued during the heist, offer their recollections and opinions. Structurally you can run parallels to “I, Tonya.”

Does it work? It the very least it’s an interesting take on how to do a heist film. Instead of a fictionally-plotted occurrence everything that happened DID actually happen in the way portrayed. The reactions from the real participants is REAL as opposed to conjured up for movie’s sake. Just like in the movies the heist was based on people make stupid mistakes. And, like so many heist films, they’re found out in the end (although there is only speculation as to how they were found as opposed to FBI agents commenting on what happened).

Overall, I enjoyed the film. Then again, I always enjoy a good heist movie. While watching the film I looked at the films they rented just to make notes on how to do a heist and realized I owned most of them (including “Rififi”). This isn’t “Inside Man,” “Heat,” “The Bank Job,” or the “Killing” – this, while very much like them, is something different.

Is it worth your time? Sure. At the very least check it out matinee or even wait for it at Redbox. In a pseudo-documentary sort-of way it’s a sobering look at boredom and “crossing the line.” As one of the characters states you don’t know UNTIL you cross that line and, maybe, that’s less the moral but more the point of the film. While you’re at it check out the director’s previous film, “The Impostor.” It’s true and somewhat unsettling.

My Grade: B

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