‘American Animals’ enthralls, offers truth to ‘buddy movie’


Jared Geyer

American Animals, a drama/crime film directed and written by Bart Layton, chronicles the escapades of four college students attempting a heist of very valuable books in their college library.
The film also shows the events that led to the heist and the drama that ensued afterward.
Most of the shots are a pleasure to watch. There are creative transitions throughout that seamlessly tie different settings together into a cohesive narrative. There are points of the movie where the events are uncertain because different characters tell conflicting stories. For example, if one of the heist members says something happened in a car when another says it happens in a bar, the scene switches back and forth between the car and the bar setting. Such unique storytelling makes the film intriguing and the filmmaking in general was sleek and polished.
The story centers around the relationship between Warren and Spencer, the first two students involved with the heist. The movie tries to flesh out these two characters and their relationship before the directors move forward with the heist itself. Both boys both want to do something in order to feel special, and that is the major draw for them of planning the robbery.
Spencer is quieter and subdued while Warren is ambitious and an extrovert. The other two people we don’t know as much about, which is one of my complaints with the film; two of the main four characters almost get no backstory besides one is fed up with school and the other has a lot of money and is successful.
Since we focus on Warren and Spencer most of the time, we really don’t get to flesh out these other characters as much as would be needed to make them more compelling.
The story, though, is intriguing, as heist films are always a fun ride, which Layton, known for The Imposter, plays to. Fiction films such Ocean’s Eleven are satisfying when everything comes together perfectly and all 11 people get their split and go. Ocean’s Eleven is fictional, however, and Layton helps us realize true life is seldom neat. His direction leads to a grounded story that shows the deep anxiety and regret that people can have before and after monumental moments. The final third of the movie is filled with the boys’ regret and shows how events can leave heavy mental scars that will haunt forever.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed American Animals. It has some flaws in character development, but overall it is a fun ride that shapes the storytelling in such a way to weave fiction and fact together. The filmmaking, direction and acting take what could have been a flat and dull storyline and elevate it into a punchy, adventurous drama.
Did you see the movie? What did you think?