RFF2018: American Animals

Bart Layton elevates crime drama to thrilling heights 

In American Animals’ opening scene, screenwriter and director Bart Layton starts joking with the caption “This is not based on a true story”. Then “not based on” disappears and you suddenly know that there’s going to be a fine line between truth and fiction of what you’re about to watch.

Actually, the british filmmaker tells the true story of one of the most famous art heist in US history, but refining the technique he used in his first docufilm, The Imposter, he used both actors and real life participants to season the narrative.

American Animals premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January and it debuted at Rome Film Festival on Friday, October 26.

American Animals – Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters. Credits/ Sundance Institute – Teodora Film

The story is set in 2004: Warren and Spencer are two longtime friends from the middle-class suburbs of Lexington, Kentucky. We follow their college lives at separate universities and their worries about the future. After discovering a special collection of rare and valuable books at Spencer’s college, the duo decides to change their lives in the most dangerous way: they enlist two more friends, Eric and Chas, and they scrupulously draw up a plan to steal the books. But all the heist movies they watched won’t be useful as they attempt to execute the theft in person: their plans go astray and the quartet will put their futures at risk.

Engaging, fast-paced, fun and sad at the same time, Layton’s film is pure entertainment which mixes fictionalized central narrative and documentary-style interviews with the real protagonists of the story, Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Chas Allen and Eric Borsuk, who also appear as the characters counterparts in some sequences of the film.

American Animals stars Evan Peters (X-Men: Apocalypse, American Horror Story), Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk), Blake Jenner (Glee) and Jared Abrahmson (Travelers) in the roles of the four students: while Jenner and Abrahmson some flavor to the quartet in the second part of the film, Peters and Keoghan take center stage and their performances as Warren and Spencer are terrific.

The film is not a simple crime drama: Layton highlights the naivety of the four students, pushing the audience to a deeper reflection about the illusions of youth. As the real Warren Lipka explains during the film, parents convince their kids that they can achieve anything but, when this idea is not supported by reality, they need to look for extreme experiences to feel special.



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