[Review] American Animals
By John Blackburn
This week, the Sony superhero film Venom was released in cinemas around the country and worldwide. I was initially planning on reviewing that film, however it’s getting quite a few negative reviews, as well as so many articles saying the premise is similar to Upgrade – an action thriller film that I would personally recommend a little more if you’re into gory action. So instead, I turned to another new release titled American Animals, which was recommended by Casey Causley, a friend and fellow film lover. After seeing it I would say the same, especially if you’re looking for a Marvel alternative.
In this 100% true story, Spencer (Barry Keoghan) is a Texas college art student who’s hoping to find the one moment in his life that will elevate his life, and help him express more in his paintings. That “moment” is in the form of rare and valuable books located in Transylvania University’s library, kept safe by an old librarian (Ann Dowd). So with the aid of his friend Warren (Evan Peters), they assemble a team with two other college students, Chas (Blake Jenner) and Eric (Jared Abrahamson) to steal the books and sell it to the highest bidder. However, they realise over time that what they’re doing isn’t as fun and easy as films like Reservoir Dogs would suggest, and what the consequences of doing something incredibly illegal are.
Director Bart Layton keeps the whole film intriguing with some incredible creativity. This film combines thrilling dramatisations with interviews from the real-life versions of those students that committed the crime. There are very creative subtle cameos- in one scene, Warren’s conversation with himself in the car is literally Evan Peter’s character talking to the real Warren. There are so many fantastic editing and cinematography choices that play around with each animal narrating the story. It not only gives this film its own edge, but also a lot of gravity and intensity during the heist(s). From the slight editing changes they make when one person takes over the story as they show their perspective; to a model-effect shot and smooth one-take pan when they plan out and imagine the simplicity of the heist. I even love the intense music playing to the rhythm of a ticking room clock during the crime when it takes place.
I also love the performances from Keoghan, Peters, Jenner and Abrahamson. They were all incredible as flawed college students who thought this would be a simple, easy, and life-changing undertaking. But as they make constant mistakes, they find it’s not that easy. Their breakdowns are convincing when the reality of the situation really takes a hold onto them. Overall, if you want to see a smart and creative combination of documentary and intriguing drama with bits of comedy, as well as an alternative from another instalment in the superhero craze, I highly recommend you check this film out.