Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.
I was incredibly pleasantly surprised by a sleeper called American Animals! This film is a little heist story about four college students who decide they want to live large by doing something memorable and generating an unforgettable experience. These characters are decidedly well-rounded and believable, and the outrageous caper they embark upon is both funny and tragic.
What is fascinating about this movie is the balance it strikes in its filmic elements; the editing employs unique montage sequences and jump cuts, some of which I have never seen before; but even more, the narrative itself is told in such an engaging way by weaving truth with fiction. Since this tale is an historical occurrence from the early 2000s, director/writer Bart Layton cleverly cuts between the real grown men being interviewed, and the professionals acting it out.
There are moments that are absolutely captivating, such as when Warren (Evan Peters) and Spencer (Barry Keoghan) sit in the car at a gas station plotting their crime, and Spencer gets out to shop in the convenience store. For a quick moment, we suddenly see the real Warren seated next to the actor who plays him, and they have a short verbal exchange about memory. This was so jarring that I looked around in the theater and approximately one-third of the patrons were sitting forward in their seats with head in hands, simply mesmerized. Likewise, for a split second, when all four young men are in the car together on their way to carry out their plan, Spencer exchanges glances out the window with a man standing on the sidewalk, who happens to be the real Spencer. There are similar filmic phenomenon throughout, such as an incredible soundtrack, that help drive the story forward and keep the suspense at a heightened pace.
The Dove Take:
Though there is ample swearing and criminal activity, the solemnity that underlies the telling of this tale prevails. And the real people, who paid the price for their crimes, convey a deep regret that communicates the insidiousness of their sins and their inability to be entirely free from repercussions. In the end, I was one of a theater full of viewers who could hear a pin drop as we were left to contemplate the gravity of our own moral choices.
Due to swearing, excessive substance use, and criminal behavior, we are unable to award this movie the Dove-Approved Seal.