Tuesday, 23 October 2018

American Animals: Film Review

American Animals: Film Review

A sizzling and hyper-stylised drama that blends heist aesthetics and thrills with contemporary interviews, Bart Layton's American Animals is a slick film that grips and pulses from the outset.

Assembling a clutch of young actors (including American Horror Story alum Evan Peters and The Killing of a Sacred Deer's Barry Keoghan), it's the story of Spencer Reinhard (Keoghan) and his part in a library heist which took place at Transylvania University in Kentucky in 2004.

Despite the fact he has everything he needs in life, but bemoaning the fact that he's after some kind of life-altering experience to change him as an artist, Spencer forms a friendship with a hyper Warren Lipka (Peters).

American Animals: NZIFF Review

Hitting on the idea to rob the library's rare book collection and its multi-million dollar haul, Warren and Spencer recruit two others to their plan - and start pulling together a heist.

Jumping between interviews of the real people involved and the drama, with moments of fourth wall breaking and unreliable narrators, American Animals' aesthetic and vibe seizes from the outset.

Layton assembles the pieces with the same kind of compelling bravura we witnessed in his doco The Imposter, but never loses sight of the two main leads in all the action.

Bringing the kind of tension that was missing from the recent Ocean's 8 film, the heist preparations excel - a swirling interplay of ideas executed in the head benefitting from taut editing and a pulsing soundtrack of music. It's a perfect insight into the minds of those involved over how it should play out, and for an audience, it's never less than gripping.

To say more about American Animals is to betray the sense of what plays out, a bastardisation of the American dream and a warning that nothing comes for free - even with talent. But Layton's less focussed on the themes of the piece, laying them out for subtle watchers to pick up on.

He's more interested in providing a film that thrills, in a format that makes the very best of docu-drama, with the emphasis on the drama. It helps the general idea of the heist is so audacious and the premise so compelling, but what American Animals also does is deliver two impressive turns in Keoghan and Peters.

Peters displays the intensity we've come to know from AHS but gives his Warren a kind of gleeful Joker style mania, the kind of guy you'd want to hang out with at a party. Keoghan, meanwhile, gives Spencer a feeling of being lost, an artist struggling to find their voice, and a would-be criminal struggling with his moral compass.

Throughout American Animals, the queasily compelling mix works incredibly well; the slick stylish piecing together of the elements of the drama and the documentary add much to what transpires - a portrait of the dispossessed and the bored - but it also gives the audience a thrill ride that has as much substance as it does style. 

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