Film review: American Animals is a tragic, haunting and compelling film

Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk, Evan Peters as Warren Lipka, Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Barry K

Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk, Evan Peters as Warren Lipka, Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Barry Keoghan as Spencer Reinhard. Picture: PA PHOTO/STX INTERNATIONAL/WILSON WEBB - Credit: Archant

Take a look at our review of American Animals which is still in cinemas - have you seen the film? What did you think?

The premise of American Animals - in 2004 four college students attempt to pull off an audacious book heist at the Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky - is one of those ‘so extraordinary it must be true’ stories and forms the basis of Bart Layton’s latest feature.

Similarly to his true-crime documentary The Imposter (2012) and Craig Gillespie’s biopic I, Tonya (2018), Layton revels in blurring the line between fiction and reality, interspersing his gripping, stylised crime drama with interviews with the real-life individuals offering wildly conflicting accounts of the distressing events that took place.

Fascinating and moving as these talking-head style discussions are, it is in the film’s drama that it truly sparks to life.

This is particularly true of its first half, with the gang’s excitement at orchestrating a seeminglingly flawless and victimless crime conveyed through dizzying cinematography, slick editing transitions and humorous exchanges – one delightful sequence sees them draw inspiration from the works of Quentin Tarantino and Jules Dassin.


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As the date of the heist draws nearer, these stylistic flourishes are pared back and replaced with an exercise in tightly-wound, knuckle-whitening tension.

Layton and his talented leads – Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner- capture the very real and dangerous world the protagonists have plunged themselves into and the devastating consequences that face them should they be caught.

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It is through this blending of fact and fiction, lightness and dark that Layton has fashioned a tragic, haunting and compelling film.

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