Events are often shaped by our perspective. What can seem to one person like a roguish act of justified criminality, can be for another an unexpected and devastatingly violent intervention. The meshing of fact and fiction, and the grey areas in-between are fascinatingly explored in Bart Layton's true life heist movie.
American Animals tells the story of four young men from privileged upbringings who decide to steal one of the rarest books in American history from their University. They are motivated by boredom and a desire for something, ANYTHING, to happen to them.
In an accomplished cast it is Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan who make the most impact. Peters (the scene-stealing Quicksilver in the X-Men franchise) oozes confidence and a slippery charm, an engagingly pathetic proposition. Keoghan (so terrifying in The Killing of a Sacred Deer) is the most sympathetic figure in the central foursome, and at times effectively takes on the role of the emotional core of the movie. The young actor has a truly fascinating career and American Animals is the latest in a run of hits.
It is through the central four that the film explores its other main theme; that of toxic white masculinity and mediocrity. In interviews Peters has talked about how he performed the part as a mimic/parody of George Clooney in Ocean's Eleven and it is genuinely interesting how the film uses this to explore the performative quality of masculinity. For the most part American Animals threatens to have its cake and eat it. And yet in its final moments the cake's taste becomes bitter. The film is a thoroughly enjoyable heist movie that barrels along, almost reaching the point where the characters seem cool. But in its final third it strips this away and highlights that the lead characters are just a quartet of idiots, over their head and underprepared for their endeavour.
If American Animals doesn't make it into my top 10 films of the year then the next few months of cinema are going to be packed with corkers. It is a confident, oft-hilarious heist movie that engages, enrages and fascinates.