Sundance London 2018 - Surprise Film - American Animals
Dir: Bart Layton
Starring Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahansom, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier
It’s interesting that this, one of the biggest successes at 2018’s Sundance Festival, should so specifically reference 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, one of the movies that put the festival on the map all those years ago. (Twenty-six years later and still nobody wants to be Mr Pink!) But this is not the only cinematic reference that writer-director Layton drips feeds through his gripping college kids/heist movie. As the filmmaker did so impressively with his previous fact-bending doc The Imposter in 2012, Layton has fun playing with the very form and veracity of film story-telling itself. He at first tells us in on screen titles this is not based on a true story, but “This is a true story” before introducing us not only to his four potential robbers, as played by his excellent young cast – but then to their real-life counterparts, captured years after the events that are about to unfold before us. Between the – now – eight of them, points of view are found to vary, memories play tricks and are anything but reliable, and (much like in The Imposter) Layton seems to take great pleasure in blurring his lines all round.
The movie focuses on long term friends and now college buddies Spencer (Keoghan) and warren (Peters) who, disappointed with the new shot at life that attending Kentucky’s Transylvania University (real name!) was supposed to offer them, concoct a half arsed plan to rob their campus library of what just happen to be some of the rarest books in the world. As the planning progresses, alternative views abound, the real life Spencer and Warren (and their eventual cohorts Eric and Chas) recall events, express regrets and contradict one another, as Layton weaves his remarkable tale into what becomes a gripping, character led heist movie.
In his first fully narrative film, (despite how you might view The Imposter), Layton, despite all his cine-literate referencing, displays an incredibly assured hand, one that is even more impressive when you realise he’s the British producer behind such late night TV “classics” as Locked Up Abroad. His ability to build tension, through his well drawn characters as much as his mastery of genre conventions – which he constantly twists and plays with – is hugely impressive and extremely confident.
This is a movie in which the less you know going in, the better a time you’ll have. So we’ll just shut up! (Except to say, you should really check it out.)
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