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American Animals
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American Animals

Genre: Crime/Drama
Rating: R
for language throughout, some drug use and brief crude sexual material
Grade: Kent's Grade: A; Lynn's Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Artist Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) and maverick Warren Lipka (Evans Peters) hatch a plan to spice up their dreary lives. They decide to steal extremely rare books from the Transylvania University rare books collection.

Soon they realize they need a third, then fourth member for their heist, and bring in planner Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and driver Chas Allen (Blake Jenner).

As their planning nears completion, Reinhard and Borsuk relate their trepidation, but Lipka convinces them to continue. The real story begins when this heist unfolds as a true life debacle.

KENT'S TAKE:
“American Animals” is a riveting drama and the true story of four college students who attempt to steal over $12 million in rare books. None of these men were criminals, and all were rudderless kids looking for a spark.

From the outset, writer/director Bart Layton cues viewers that this story is an unusual one and will be told this way as well. His storytelling is masterful. Bouncing from documentary style interviews with the real criminals to the dramatization of how this story began and unfolds initially offers a playful view of the characters and their crazy idea. However, as the story builds toward the heist, the tone becomes deadly serious as the reality of what they are about to embark upon hits home.

“Ocean’s 8,” another heist film currently in theaters, gives audiences little character development and keys on the trickery of the heist. The results are disappointing.

In “American Animals,” viewers discover Reinhard’s artistic talent, his angst and the struggles he has with his heart and mind. They see that Lipka has nothing to lose and that he looks for distraction in drugs and risk-taking. Because we know these men, we root for them – not to succeed in their robbery, but to not go through with it.

This simple story is less about the heist and more about the men and their reasons for attempting such an ill-conceived undertaking. These college students are full of motivation and drive to score millions, but are short on execution and common sense. This creates a situation similar to watching a train wreck – you just can’t look away.

Audiences can surmise from the start that these thieves get caught; it’s the journey that captivates, as their inevitable failure helps build tension in its unusual way.

“American Animal” follows four college students with hopeful futures as they throw away their opportunities for normal, productive lives with a perceived shortcut to riches. Rarely has poor planning and execution been so fascinating and tense.

For a distinctive look inside the minds of four 20-somethings, flag down “American Animals” for an unforgettable slice of top-notch storytelling.

LYNN'S TAKE:
“American Animals” is an absorbing look at an audacious true-crime story, well executed by writer/director Bart Layton, with gritty performances by a quartet of rising young actors as the thrill-seekers.

Those unfamiliar with the “American Animals” story will be stunned by this mind-boggling turn into criminal activity by four young men from “good homes.” I was. How this ill-conceived plan is carried out, and the remorseful consequences, is stunning and Layton deftly combines the real-people accounts with the re-enacted narrative.

Evan Peters, a St. Louis native who broke through as Quicksilver in the “X-Men” prequels, proves his dramatic chops as the hot-headed ringleader Warren Lipka.

Barry Keoghan, so compelling as the creepy antagonist in the bizarre “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” is sympathetic as conflicted artist Spencer Reinhard.

Jared Abrahamson is noteworthy as brainy Eric Borsuk, as is versatile Blake Jenner, of “Glee” and “Everybody Wants Some!,” as golden boy Chas Allen II.

The wondrous Ann Dowd, the current go-to supporting actress, is again engaging as the roughed-up special collections librarian Betty Jean Gooch.
With the meticulous, detailed approach of a documentarian, Layton shows what a captivating storyteller he is.

The explanation of the title is the first step in upending expectations, and then the real-life-is-stranger-than-fiction account grabs hold for nearly two hours.
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