American Animals is an incredibly smart take on perception and what it means to truthfully recount and tell a story as it happened. In this fact-based experimental film we follow four young college students who plan to steal a collection of incredibly rare books. Bart Layton, coming off of his acclaim from his documentary ‘The Imposter’ brings us an in-depth take on a true-crime committed by these seemingly normal and well educated young adults.
The words “This is not a true story” open the film to the spectator’s shock as it is not the norm, only to retract the word “not”. From the very start the attention to detail is evident with a clever script from Layton, who incorporates documentary with ‘fictional’ story – creating an experimental new idea of what film is like, similar to the recent “I, Tonya” the film combines interviews with the narrative yet it at no point holds back from re-treading and exclaiming, this could not be true. The idea of perception is crucial to the core of the film, we have real life apparent truth colliding with conflicting stories from the various criminals who are featured predominantly throughout the film alongside to their fictional counterparts playing out the perspective of Warren (Evan Peters) or Spencer (Barry Keoghan) mainly.
The film is about a so-called ‘lost generation’ who once imagined they’d do or be something special and this was their time to be special, yet the reality was that they weren’t anything too special nor smart. The films form and narrative style is what truly leaps out, referring to films like Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ where in both the heist goes wrong and they both focus on the before and after. Even going as far as naming each character who takes part in the crime a colour exactly like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ as they look for inspiration for how to commit this crime. But on a greater level American Animals’ narrative is non-linear as we begin near the end and flashback to 18 months prior, to understand the motivations – this narrative helps build suspense as we eagerly await the crime. In the end American Animals is really a character piece on the psychological aspects of what it’s like to commit a crime and it focuses on the effects caused intertwining the real-life aspect of this film.
The most noticeable aspect bar the narrative is certainly the visual flair Layton presents, using multiple whip-pans, zooms and handhelds the film has a true sense of urgency and pace that has been created extremely successfully in the editing suite. The way the camera is used is rather fascinating as the film uses focus and angles in such a way it creates false perceptions, such as the scene where they plan the crime including just the two original young men and Ann Dowd’s librarian cutting from low and high angles creating a somewhat ultra-realistic dance number as they role through their plan.
However when it all comes down to it, the ensemble cast is the true soul of the film – Evan Peters puts on an incredible unsettling performance as Warren, alongside Barry Keoghan who delivers an excellent performance as the lead role. Furthermore Ann Dowd, coming off of her terrifying performance in ‘Hereditary’ puts on a standout performance as the slightly odd librarian.
As a whole the film delivers experimental dramatic quality and from the very start you know you are in the hands of an upcoming master-director with a clear vision. The film has a truly emotional punch, it is portrayed through interviews and it’s about the toll it takes on the mind to commit a crime, whether redemption is valid or not it’s down to you.
American Animals is now in select cinemas and available on Digital