American Animals film review: questioning the American Dream

American Animals.
American Animals.

RATING: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

TELLING the true story of an attempt to steal antique books from Transylvania University in Kentucky in 2004, American Animals is a heist movie that mixes truth and fiction.

The story questions the accuracy of memory and authenticity of the American Dream.

Spencer (Barry Keoghan) is an arts student who believes he can never be a great artist, having never suffered for his art because of his protected middle-class upbringing.

He escapes the mundanity of college life through his reckless and enigmatic friend Warren (Evan Peters), another student who is frustrated that following in his father’s footsteps has not led to happiness.

Spencer tells Warren about a library where expensive first-edition books are held, including Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Warren hatches a plan to steal the books and make their fortune.

He recruits accounts student Eric (Jared Abrahamson) and fitness fanatic Chas (Blake Jenner) and they Google’ how to conduct a robbery’.

The film playfully blurs the lines between fact and fiction by including interviews with the four men intersected throughout the film, but their accounts often differ.

Spencer and Warren interact with their fictional counterparts to remind the viewer ‘truth’ is told from a particular viewpoint.

Keoghan and Peters embody the adolescent men complete with patchy facial hair, an unhealthy pallor of smoking too much and living off junk food.

American Animals is bold in style and immensely funny; the heist is one of the most intense scenes I have experienced in a cinema.

The film is not about whether the four boys successfully pull off the heist; the ‘real life’ interviews tell us otherwise.

Instead, the story examines the romanticisation often seen onscreen of white privileged men who rebel simply because life is not as interesting as they thought it would be.

Caught in the excitement of committing a robbery, they do not consider the consequences of their actions.


American Animals (MA)

Directed by: Bart Layton

Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Ann Dowd

Review by: Lucy Rutherford

In cinemas now