When a film has a tagline that says “This is not based on a true story… This IS a true story,” you can grab my attention pretty easily. Such is the case with writer-director Bart Layton’s “American Animals”. It tells the story of four young men in 2004 that hatch a plan to rob Transylvania University of some of its collection of rare books that could potentially get them millions of dollars on the black market, including works by Audubon and Van Gough, and the effect that it has on the community and the nation.
The interesting part to this film is that the actual subjects are part of the production, so this is almost a hybrid film of documentary and narrative. The other cool part to doing the film this way is to see the similarities of the actual men who did this to the actors portraying them in Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, Barry Keoghan, and Jared Abrahamson. As the story progresses, there is even a nod to how perceptions can change the way the story itself is recalled all the way up until the end credits roll. This is also a story where it almost seems to insane to be true, to the point where Don passed me a note during the heist that read “I could have pulled this off better than these guys”.
If there is a downside here, it is that the first act of the story takes a bit long. It did not seem to me that there needed to be as much groundwork laid here as there was, but once that was all done, the pacing picks up greatly. This is one of those cases where “just get through all of the introductions because there is a payoff” applies, so don’t get discouraged right off the bat.
“American Animals” may end up being a film that sees most of its success down the road via cable or home video sales, and if that is the case, it will be a shame. This is a really good film that deserves to be seen in a theater with a large group of people if for no other reason that to corporately shake your head at how outrageous this story truly is. This is totally worth the two hours spent, so go see this film!