Thanks to Madman Entertainment we got to see American Animals before its Australian cinematic release. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself!

“This is [not based on] a true story” appears on screen at the start of American Animals and from that point onwards writer and director, Bart Layton, cleverly blurs the lines between fact and fiction. At times we’re listening to the recollections of the actual characters the movie is based on, at others we’re seeing both actor and person on screen simultaneously. There is an early shot where we view an upside-down world from a moving car’s window…and this becomes indicative of the tumultuous ride we take with Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) and Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson).

Spencer is an art student at prestigious Transylvania University, Kentucky. His rebellious friend, Warren, begins to formulate an idea for a heist when Spencer mentions the rare books kept at his university library. One is Darwin’s Origin of Species, the other, a first edition of Audobon’s The Birds of America worth $12 million dollars. As the plan crystalises, the two realise more help is needed for the heist to be possible: enter Eric, the logical mind; and Chas, the getaway driver. Layton and cinematographer Ole Birkeland deliver wonderful touches throughout, like changing to black and white film noir mode when Spencer and Warren begin to discuss the heist in detail. Anne Nikitin’s powerful score and the soundtrack tie in successfully, too. Primitive drumbeats with close-ups of Audobon’s paintings of birds of prey sets the tense pace just as Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man or The Doors’ Peace Frog echo moments of joy and recklessness.

Keoghan and Peters give brilliant performances – their heady hope and naivety combine to create a realistic portrayal, as well as the robbery itself. Layton provides dialogue that is witty, believable and often poignant. Determined to fulfill their dream of removing the books from the library and starting a new life, if not starting to really live, the friends remain adamant that nobody must get hurt in the execution. But with the collection guarded by sweet Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd), their main obstacle, this becomes impossible to achieve. Teary recollections from the thieves and their parents confirm this.

A burning supermarket trolley, rolling across a carpark can be seen as a symbol of the lure of capitalsim and its destructive powers. Spencer narrates that he always saw great artists as those caught up in tragedy and suffering. American Animals’ storytelling proves this successfully.

…… like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths…” (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Book V:14)

In Cinemas October 4

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