American Animals

Dir. Bart Layton

For some, a life-changing, formative event may be taking a gap year and travelling the world, being inadvertently caught up in a car crash or watching your parents go through a divorce. Not many people would choose to plan and carry out an audacious robbery, but that was what Spencer Reinhard decided as his equivalent of Van Gogh cutting off his ear.

This story recounts, in a mixture of styles that add to the enjoyment, the attempts of Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk and Chas Allen to steal rare editions of books, or in one case, “a book with pictures”. No, not the Dandy or the Beano.

As the tales progress by way of dramatisations courtesy of Barry Keoghan (Spencer), Evan Peters (Warren), Jared Abrahamson (Eric) and Blake Jenner (Chas), director Bart Layton cuts to the real life protagonists as they sit and recount their memories directly to camera. What should be a consistent story of how events unfolded suddenly becomes decidedly blurred through their hazy recollections. One scene shows Spencer and Warren sitting in a car and a superb example of cinematography emphasises this blurring of history, while showing up how lazy some directors have become with their reliance on CGI to create imagery.

So who would steal a book of birds and a first edition of Darwin’s Origin of the Species, rather than hard cash or something that can easily be fenced? Four naive, greedy youths, perhaps? Four people who have watched too many Tarantino movies and think that allocating themselves colours of the rainbow as cover is a sign of sophistication?

The impact on their families, as told by the parent themselves, tells of another aspect of guilt, as they wonder where they, rather than their offspring, went wrong.

Once the veneer of their youthful arrogance has been stripped away, the four robbers flail about in desperation.

By intertwining the recreation of the heist between the storytelling, Layton is able to notch up the tension several levels. Each culprit experiences their own dilemmas, both during and after the robbery. Whether or not anyone really did vomit in the car as a result of nervous excitement, the resultant smell in the confined atmosphere is almost palpable.

And even when everyone thinks all the facts have been delivered, the director and Warren leave viewers with a delicious decision of trust to make.

Ged Camera