American Animals

CRIME DRAMA; 1hr 57min

STARRING: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Jared Abrahamson, Blake Jenner

In action, incognito: from left, Jared Abrahamson, Evan Peters, Blake Jenner and Barry Keoghan

In his kinetic account of good Kentucky boys gone inexplicably rogue, documentarian Bart Layton (The Imposter) puts his reality-bitten experience to good use, cutting between the actual men the boys became and an energised ensemble of actors playing them as their misguided 2004 selves.


The boys’ reversal of fortune begins when frustrated artist Spencer Reinhard (Keoghan) takes a shine to a book while on a library tour at Lexington's Transylvania University. This isn’t any dusty old book, of course: James Audubon’s The Birds of America is an antique worth a fortune. When Spencer shares his experience with his reckless buddy, Warren Lipka (Peters), a scheme is hatched to steal the Birds and a bunch of other rare volumes from their hallowed niche in the library’s Special Collections Room, and sell them on in a netherworld of seedy greed for a cool $12 million.


Working from conflicting, to-camera recollections of the chastened adult Spencer and Warren, the picture that takes shifting shape is of two babes in a thorny wood with large-living ideals that propelled them, along with their ring-in accomplices (Abrahamson and Jenner), to the last place in the world they have any business being.


When the outcome of any story is an established fact, its implosion can be queasily fascinating. The boys are laughably inept heisters, but there’s nothing remotely funny about the consequences of what they’re trying, and failing dismally, to do. With the wisdom of hindsight, the men are as regretful of and saddened by their actions as they were overwhelmed by their unreasoning impetus at the time. It’s as if the imperative of momentum—and Warren’s ironclad conviction—kept their shared delusion alive when their every sane instinct should have been to turn tail.