American Animals: A fascinating mix of real life and fantasy

British filmmaker Bart Layton has made a fascinating film in American Animals.


The film was based on a book by Chris Evans, one of four young men who tried to steal a precious book from their University library.

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The book was John James Audubon’s Birds of America which was on display in the library at the University of Transylvania.


Evans wrote the book while serving a seven year jail sentence for his part in the botched robbery.

American Animals is a fascinating mixture of film and documentary. As the film traces the planning and execution of the robbery, it is intercut by interviews with the four young men who actually took part in the robbery so from the beginning we know that all is not going to turn out well.

The use of the real live characters is a fascinating device, in that real-life characters never engage the sympathy of the audience. As they tell the stories, you begin to realise that these are young men who are not very bright and not very interesting.


The cast (original characters in bold)

Blake Jenner and Chas Allen, Jared Abrahamson and Erik Borsuk, Spencer Reinhard and Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters and Warren Lipka,  

 At the core of the film is the puzzle of the motivation of the original characters. In the film, they want to do something exciting in their lives, something different. But this is hardly satisfying as an understanding of what motivated these young men to set out on  such an obviously doomed project.

The film cleverly traces the extent to which the characters become increasingly enmeshed in the plan, unable to escape often because of the pressure brought to bear by the charismatic Chas Allen.

The pace of the film changes with the first aborted attempt at the robbery where the would-be robbers turn up disguised as old men.


At the second attempt, almost everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. Events proves that watching reruns of Heist movies is not a good preparation for amateur robbers.

The four young men do not have the temperament nor the experience to conduct a robbery of this kind. And when things go wrong, they begin to disintegrate as individuals.

This disintegration is brought about by a number of significant flaws in the plan.

The books prove too big to carry, the lift they were to use for the escape does not go into the basement and finally when they endeavour to authenticate the two smaller books they have managed to steal at a leading auction house, Spencer Reinhard leaves his personal mobile phone number with the auctioneer’s assistant.

The film is interesting in that it is very difficult to have any sympathy with any of the leading characters. It is also interesting that Bart Layton managers to build the tension towards the end of the film even knowing what the ending will be.

But in the end, we do not understand the motivation of these four young men. And for my case, I really didn’t care very much either.


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