Cast: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson
Director: Bart Layton
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: The unbelievable but true story of four young men who brazenly attempt to execute one of the most audacious art heists in US history. Determined to live lives that are out of the ordinary, they formulate a daring plan for the perfect robbery, only to discover that the plan has taken on a life of its own.
As MoviePass attempts to expand their presence in the film industry, one of their ventures is to actually start distributing films that otherwise might not have gotten a major theatrical release. Luckily for MoviePass, their first attempt, American Animals, is a unique, suspenseful addition to the heist genre. Powered by characters that each bring their own quirks to a complex and interesting story, American Animals is an incredibly absurd movie, but the level of absurdity just might make it one of the most believable heist movies ever.
The film follows Spencer (Keoghan) and Warren (Peters), two college students who plan on robbing the special collections section of the Transylvania University library. After recruiting two of their friends, Eric (Abrahamson) and Chas (Jenner), the four carry out the steps necessary for the heist and the consequences of their actions. American Animals is unique because while it is a heist film at heart, one of the main things that stands out is that the plot is intercut with scenes from the actual men being interviewed about their actions during the heist. Not only is this extremely rare to see in heist movies, but the inclusion of the real men and not just older actors humanizes the story a bit. Unlike 15:17 to Paris, which overutilized people with no acting experience, American Animals feels much more natural and the docu-style setup is an impressive addition. Given Layton’s experience working on various documentaries, it makes sense that he would try to incorporate this element into the film, but in this case it works out extremely well. Outside of that feature, I was surprised with just how tense this movie made me feel, given that the heist was generally non-violent. The students combine a certain level of both incompetence and determination, so while they are in way over their heads, every time something goes wrong or a step is about to be commenced scenes get incredibly tense and make you wait to see if the kids can actually pull this off. Combined with incredible sound mixing and editing that adds to the buildup and tension, these elements really separate American Animals from its successors. One of the areas where the film struggles though is the cinematography. Many of the action sequences are jumbled and disorganized, and maybe this is because they are supposed to represent the jumbled and disorganized plan these kids have, but either way it tends to be rather distracting. Regarding the documentary scenes, I felt as though their inclusion humanized the protagonists a bit too much. We are so focused on their attempt to steal these paintings that we forget that people were hurt along the way. When the real Betty Anne Gooch (played in the plot by Ann Dowd), speaks at the end about the whole encounter, it jolted me back into reality. It reminded me that no matter how charismatic these actors and people are, it does not dismiss the injustice that they caused this poor woman. It was really interesting to see this final scene, especially after all of what happened, but I am not sure if how it makes me feel about the film as a whole. I applaud it for taking the risk of showing how flawed our characters are, but at the same time it made me feel uneasy about rooting for them, which is probably how I should have felt from the beginning.
Overall, American Animals combines two genres that I would have never thought would work well with one another and turns it into a more than respectable film. Superb performances by the four main actors characters who really embrace the roles they were given and make them their own combined with an enticing story make MoviePass’ first attempt at a feature-length film distribution a smash hit.
Overall Score: 8/10