What is your definition of a great heist film? Is it the complexity of the plan? Is it the twists and double-crosses? Or is it the exciting and satisfying getaway? If you’re thinking “all of them combined” well then I’ve got news for you; American Animals features none of these things and it is simply brilliant.
American Animals is an American crime drama film with documentary sequences interlaced – a true story film that follows the lives of four young men and their plan to pull a heist on some very rare paintings. It stars Evan Peters playing the real life Warren Lipka and Barry Keoghan playing Spencer Reinhard, both of whom are featured in the film.
In past years’ filmmakers have consistently focused on using story elements like the getaway or plot twist and double-cross to entertain the audience; flashy plans executed in style and elegance are not new to cinema, just this year Ocean’s 8 (2018) proved it’s alive and well. American Animals takes it back to basics, to real life basics. The reality of a real heist is no doubt terrifying, not just for the victims but for those committing the heist. Nothing ever goes down as elegantly in real life; that calm and professional demeanor is replaced with jumpiness, clumsiness, and arm rattling trigger-happy adrenaline fueled nerves. This is exactly what American Animals offers; a raw tension-driven pace that makes the audience themselves feel like the cronies committing the heist – you feel their fear and you feel their desperation.
Both Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan portray real people in this film alongside interviews of the individuals themselves; this allows the viewer to immerse themselves into the reality of the real life situation even further. Evan Peters takes the unruly and wacky personality of the real life counterpart Warren Lipka and brings him to life, a young man trying so hard to make something of his life to prove to himself that he can do something special. Warren is a free spirit that is not free of the criticisms he has of himself, he wants to be somebody that is remembered and he wants to make his mark. Peters does a great job at capturing Warren’s real life humor and real life regrets. While I certainly appreciate Barry Keoghan as an actor he simply doesn’t suit the role of Spencer Reinhard, a man who in real life acts, looks, and presents himself completely differently to whats given in the film. Someone who can resemble him better would have been preferable as many of his lines feel too lifeless rather than scared and reluctant for the situation he is about to get himself into.
Considering this film interweaves a documentary in with a full blown heist movie audiences are subjected to so many more intense moments when they’re followed up by seeing the real individual’s thoughts on scenarios or scenes that take place, this truly feels like you are peering into their heads looking at their fears, excitement, doubts, and other complex emotions leading up to the heist. This style of film-making works in conjunction with the nail-biting tension to deliver a tone and pace that makes this film masterful in its genre class. The soundtrack in this film is deep, rhythmic, and powerful – coming in at just the right times to provide the tension required; it knows its moments to drown out the sound to make you feel even more uneasy.
American Animals provides you a singular intense story – it doesn’t quite nail the casting perfectly and could potentially see multiple rewatches losing its charm, but it provides core components of a thrilling heist film and executes them cleanly. Despite the scale of the heist being so small audiences are given so much in return. With a uniquely articulated blend of documentary and cinema, American Animals fixes your eyes to the screen; this is heist film-making in its most raw and animalistic form.
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