American Animals
(Available August 28)

The marketing for American Animals did the film a disservice. Trailers sold this as a wacky heist flick. But even though there is a heist at the center of the story, that’s not really what this is. Instead, this film, from Imposter director Bart Layton, is more like a combination of The Social Network and Errol Morris’ groundbreaking documentary The Thin Blue Line.

The bulk of American Animals is a re-telling of the true story of a group of college students who banded together to steal some extremely rare, extremely valuable art books. Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, and Jared Abrahamson play the students, and each actor brings something worthwhile to their parts. Peters is excellent in particular as the most morally gray member of the team. We watch as the gang comes up with a somewhat ludicrous but plausible plan, and enact it.

And while all this is unfolding, Larton also intercuts interviews with the actual college students who committed the heist as they reflect on their terrible decision. It’s a fascinating approach to the material, and Larton has fun playing with perception. A scene will play out with certain details – a background figure will be wearing a scarf, for instance. Then, one of the real college students will interject that this isn’t quite correct, and the scene will play out again, only this time without the figure in a scarf.

While there’s a darkly comedic bent to all of this, American Animals is not a comedy. It’s ultimately incredibly dark, and rather disturbing. It’s a portrait of disaffected, bored, privileged youth. I’ve seen some argue that by putting the real criminals on display here and essentially making them movie stars, Larton and company are glamorizing their crime. I won’t say that criticism is invalid, but I think it’s clear by the time the credits roll that Larton doesn’t really have much sympathy for the culprits, and that he’s not letting them off the hook for anything. He’s merely pointing a camera in their direction, trying to figure out why they did what they did.

Special Features to Note:

There are four mini-featurettes – each running about a minute, total – with the main cast,  Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, and Jared Abrahamson, discussing their characters. It’s slight stuff, where each actor is essentially just providing us with a synopsis of the film.

There’s also a two-minute deleted scene. It involves Peters and Keoghan’s characters sitting in a car in a parking lot, both of them looking despondent and musing about their futures, or lack thereof. “You ever wonder how you ended up being born you, here, and not somewhere else?” Keoghan’s character asks. “You ever feel like you’re waiting for something to happen…but you don’t know what it is?” Peters listens intently. It’s an overly melancholy scene, and a relatively quiet, reflective moment. Perhaps too quiet and reflective for the final film.

Special Features Include:

  • Featurettes
  • Still Gallery
  • Director and Cast Commentary
  • Deleted Scene

 

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