American Animals | Salt Lake City Weekly

American Animals

Rated R 116 minutes 2018

★★★★★ ★★★★★
“This is not based on a true story,” say the onscreen titles at the beginning; “This is a true story.” A bold assertion, but Bart Layton, whose previous film was the unbelievably engrossing documentary Impostor, makes a strong case with his narrative debut, about a 2004 incident in which four college kids tried to pull off a heist of rare books. Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters play the two main dopes, overachieving Spencer and slacker Warren, who half-jokingly come up with the idea to rob the university library’s collection, only to have that half-joke evolve into a real (but not very good) plan. As a heist film, it spins its wheels for too long, forgetting that these guys are short-sighted buffoons to whom we have little emotional connection. But Layton’s master stroke is incorporating real interviews with the actual guys into the story, even having them interact with the movie versions of themselves. He blends documentary and dramatization in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before, allowing each half to comment on the other and turning an otherwise so-so true-crime dramedy into something noteworthy.

Film Credits

Director: Bart Layton

Producer: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Mary Jane Skalski, Daniel Battsek, David Kosse, Sam Lavender, Len Blavatnik, Aviv Giladi, Toby Hill, Piers Vellacott, Tory Metzger and Darren Demetre

Cast: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson, Blake Jenner, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier, Gary Basaraba, Lara Grice, Jane McNeill and Wayne Duvall

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