'American Animals' is, formally, a difficult film to describe. It retains the structure of the heist films that came before it, even referencing them from time to time, cementing it as a disciple of those pioneers. Where the film stands out, however, is in the way it tells its story, in a non-linear fashion that seamlessly blends between the reality and fiction of this true-crime narrative. Whereas documentaries often use dramatisations to help visually realise their subject matter, here, these dramatisations take centre stage, supported by the painfully real inflections of those who were actually involved in this 2004 heist. This conflux, use to provide commentary, as well as irregular but welcome flair within the recreated narrative, help to differentiate 'American Animals' from other films of its pedigree. Furthermore, these aforementioned recreations feature standout performances from the likes of Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan, further distancing Layton's film from the somewhat shabby predecessors that deploy similar techniques. On a technical level, the film is fairly regular, lacking inspiration with its cinematography which arguably helps ground the events which it portrays. The score nicely compliments the action on-screen, effectively building upon the tension set up by the visuals. The film can, however, drag in places, particularly during the first act, whereupon it hits familiar story beats that could have been addressed quicker, the time taken with the set-up juxtaposing the otherwise revolutionary approach the film takes to the heist formula. Otherwise, the third act is nothing short of thrilling, with the conclusion proving a melancholic reminder of the reality of these events, and the impact they can carry, with its audacity to allow the audience to decipher the difference between what is true and false. 'American Animals' is a heist film through and through, but differentiates itself from others through the methods by which its tells its story and provides connections between the characters and audience. Whilst the pacing can prove problematic at times, persistence ultimately proves rewarding. Should Layton continue to adopt this unique approach to other genres, he may become a standout in years to come.
Four young men mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious heists in U.S. history.
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April 4, 2019