Film Review: “American Animals” is an Unbelievable True Story You May have Missed – Watch Now!


By Liz Lopez

Rating: A

Often times, we read that a movie is “based on” some real events and so it is to be anticipated that some of the events/action is a dramatization. From the very beginning of the feature film written and directed by Bart Layton (“The Imposter”) there is a title card that clearly tells the viewer this is a real story. At that very moment, I sat back to learn about a crime and drama from an unexpected “community” that absolutely has the knowledge and intelligence to have known better. This is not just “another heist film” – not a remake, nor a sequel – this is about four Kentucky university students that plotted an art theft from their own college library in a very amateur way – the Rare Collections books! I highly recommend viewing the film not only for the story, but the format that the director uses to relay it, including both actors and the four former students. 

In Layton’s screenplay, it is more than evident that the four criminals have conflicting perspectives as to how this whole heist came to be, including who the “ringleader” was to plot and execute the robbery in 2004. The story’s real-life lawbreakers, Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk and Chas Allen now much older after serving time, have their say on the big screen and it does not always match up.

The dramatization of this 2004 story is enacted by Barry Keoghan (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Dunkirk”), Evan Peters (“X-Men: Apocalypse”), Jared Abrahamson (“Travelers” and “Fear the Walking Dead” TV series) and Blake Jenner (“The Edge of Seventeen,” “Everybody Wants Some!!”) The four actors shine as they present a version of who the students were at the time in their life where they actually “had it all” compared to so many other people and yet were still looking for more to their life.

Reinhard, played by Keoghan, was a gifted fine-art student at Kentucky’s Transylvania University. Lipka is a childhood friend of Reinhard’s who is attending the university on an athletic scholarship, yet does not attend practice, nor cares a bit about being there. Yet when Reinhard mentions the rare and valuable collection under lock and key, his eyes sparkle and the brainstorming begins.

Peters is absolutely great in his performance that ranges from a pot-smoking “who cares” unbalanced attitude to “leader of the pack” and taking charge. Lipka convinces a super smart math student (Borsuk) and entrepreneur in the making (Allen) into their plan, knowing what to say to get them to cross over. Keoghan shows us where Reinhard likes the thrill of where this activity may go, to fully engaging in the activities, then anxious about consequences to his family, quitting the group, then not abandoning them despite how ridiculously bad the execution of their plan plays out.

Watching movies about robberies will not make an expert thief of anyone. There is a huge difference between using your imagination and acting on the plan, aside from failing to face the reality that there would be consequences with these activities. Or, can it be that they thought wealth and privilege would take care of them? You watch this film and decide.

The very sad scene is when Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd), the real-life librarian in charge of the rare collection is treated violently in order to carry out the robbery — not part of the plan and horrible. Despite this one scene, I highly recommend viewing this film.

The cast also includes Udo Kier, Gary Basaraba, Lara Grice, Jane McNeill and Wayne Duvall, among the many uncredited actors on many campus scenes.

The Orchard presents “American Animals” that made its Texas debut at the SXSW Film Festival this past March in the Festival Favorites category and now begins an Austin theatrical run at the Regal Arbor 8 this Friday, June 15.

The film is rated R and the running time is 116 minutes.

Source: The Orchard

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