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“American Animals” A Senseless Crime






Review by John Delia

It’s a true story and a very disturbing one based on the motive, senselessness and outcome of the crime it depicts. Set in Lexington, Kentucky the film could have been anywhere in the world, and the result has the distinct possibility of ending upside down. Depicted in the artists own paintings, the animals therein show as much random viciousness for their prey as the subjects in the movie American Animals. Excellent direction, acting and portrayal of the crime however, makes it a must see. The unique thing about the film is that you get to see all four of the real perpetrators of the crime intermittently throughout the movie.

Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson, Blake Jenner, and Barry Keoghan in American Animals

The film opens with a quick insight into what took place 18 months later in September of 2004. The small tidbit sets up the story that begins with Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), getting initiated into a fraternity at Transylvania University, a private college in Lexington, Ky. He’s studying art and gets introduced to the college’s prized possessions, several of the world’s most valuable books. In the collection is the 19th century set of rare books of John James Audubon’s first edition. It includes his “Birds of America” the most valuable book in existence and worth around $12 million. Also in the library is a copy of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” that would carry a heavy price.

Barry Keoghan as Spencer with Evan Peters as Warren in AMERICAN ANIMALS

Deciding he is bored with waiting to become rich, he enlists Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) to help him put his scheme together. Lipka is able to bring law student Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and later Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) to the plan to rob the contents of the secure room where the books are kept. The starry-eyed thieves have no idea what they were getting themselves into and as the film plays out, you will find what the word “hapless” means.

What makes the film very good is the direction by who also wrote the screenplay. There are not a whole lot of directors who have credits in the writing category, but I’m happy that Bart Layton put this true story together more like a novel than a documentary. With the culprits eager to tell their story, it wasn’t hard to find them for the making of the documentary. To make it a gem for the screen however, it takes talent honing his directorial ability making crime documentaries like The Impostor and TV Series “Locked Up Abroad”. Layton’s American Animals makes the true crime story extremely real mixing actors with the actial guys who devised the heist and almost got away with it.

The Birds of America Book by John James Audubon in AMERICAN ANIMALS

The cast works nicely together with each a stand-out all their own. X-Men’s Evan Peters depicts the gullible yet instigator of the motley group Warren Lipka. When told of the plan he sees dollar signs and a way out of his deadened life. Easily convinced, he will do anything to get his hands on a fortune no matter where it may take him. He already has a nice filmography nailing his role of Quicksilver in X-Men and the lead in Pirates of Somalia.

In the role of Spencer Reinhard the founder of the scheme to steal the books, Barry Keoghan cut his acting teeth on several notable films. Here he creates a luckless artist who becomes bored with waiting for a chance for success so he dreams up a scheme that was a winner in movies so why not for real. With his eye on the prize he knows that all he has to do is get the team to do it. If you lie true war movies like Dunkirk and indie movies that include The Killing of a Sacred Deer, then you have seen some of his acting.

American Animals has R for language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material. It also contains a scene of minor violence.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good crime story with a screwed up robbery. (4 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information
Cast: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson, Blake Jenner, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier. Gary Basaraba, Lara Grice, Jane McNeill, Wayne Duvall, Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk, Charles Allen II.
Directed and screen written by: Bart Layton
Genre: Crime, Drama, (with comical overtones) Based on a true story
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material
Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Distributed By: The Orchard Studios
Released in: Standard

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