Thanks to director Bart Layton’s unique brand of storytelling, you’re never bored with “American Animals.”
Mad, yes. But bored, never.
Suggesting that it may (or may not) be based on a true story, “Animals” chronicles the “excitement” four college-age men sought in the early part of the 21st century.
To keep the guessing game going, Layton uses those actually involved to comment on the action. It’s a fascinating approach that resembles “I, Tonya” in several respects.
After meeting the most innocent of the four, we learn they want to steal valuable books from the Transylvania University library. Hoping to fence them, they figure they can make a killing and jump-start their seemingly dull lives.
While one creates a blueprint of the building, another researches ways to unload the books. A third works on transportation while the fourth nervously agrees to accompany the actual thief.
By anyone’s estimation, they’re out of their league, but that doesn’t stop them from boldly moving forward. They don bad guises, bumble repeatedly and learn a lesson that should have dawned on them long before the authorities moved in.
Layton gets another “American Horror Story” performance out of Evan Peters as the ringleader. He’s abetted nicely by Barry Keoghan as an art major who believes he needs something dramatic to inform his work. The other two (an exercise freak and a brain) grease the speeding train’s tracks.
Listening to the real four comment on action should be comforting – if they seemed remorseful. But much of the remorse is provided by the director who editorializes with moments without commentary.
Saying they got caught is hardly a spoiler. Listening to what they learned is a real lesson.
Ann Dowd, as the librarian they subdue to get the books, looks like their biggest obstacle. She plays everything with a strong sense of cool, then reacts the way we might in similar circumstances.
Thankfully, innocent people weren’t injured in the process. White male privilege, however, did get bruised.
What did the four learn in prison? That question isn’t answered but it lingers from start to finish.
"American Animals" is a different breed of film.