American Animals is the best film I’ve seen in the cinema this year.
You’re going to find that this post is shorter than my ones on The Predator and The Canyons. It’s strange because it seems like I have trouble talking positively about films. You might find it difficult too. We’re so sure about what it is that we don’t like that when we have to talk about what we do like we can get a bit tongue-tied.
You might not be keeping track, but you get more mileage from negative emotions than positive.
Either way, let me try and express to you how much I liked American Animals.
Like I mentioned before, it was the best cinema experiences that I had this year.
American Animals, a different beast.
If you read my write up on The Predator, then you’ll know that there are certain traits that I like in a film. If you’re able to give me a movie grounded in reality that has plans falling apart, then there’s a chance you won me over.
The middle-class in filmmaking is disappearing even faster than it had done before. With Disney ruling the upper levels you can watch a remake of an animated classic or a superhero movie. On the other end of the spectrum, you have micro-budgeted indie dramas. You know you’re watching an indie drama when someone has a freak out in a car on their own. There are also horror films. Horror films are now the cinematic equivalent of Smells Like Teen Spirit on loop.
I enjoy modestly budgeted crime thrillers, where have they gone? Films like Drive, Killing Them Softly, The Drop? Even movies which weren’t as good like Dead Man Down. Less of these types of movies are made, and they’re already in short supply. Everything needs to make back its budget times one million.
American Animals is as close as I’ll get this year.
Based on a true story American Animals gives you various takes on events from the key players in the tale.
The tale is of four college/university students who want to steal a valuable book from a library.
The film is about a heist in the same vein as The Killing, Reservoir Dogs and Riffi. In one part the crooks watch several robbery films as part of their research for the job. All the movies mentioned above are in the pile of DVDs.
The film is a combination of documentary interviews and dramatised moments. The documentary parts take the form of interviews with the main players. They address the camera face on and explain to us what happened. They talk us through their emotions and thought processes. Their story hooks you in. You can’t help but feel sorry for them.
The other side of the film is a cinematic reenactment. It is well scripted. It’s also directed in such a way that elevates the material beyond the True Crime fodder that it could have been.
The filmmakers implement certain cinematic tricks throughout to great effect. Messing with time and perspective for one. Having the actors interact with their real-world counterparts helped.
There’s no narration. Despite the presence of the interviews with the perpetrators, it’s left ambiguous why these guys would risk their futures for this. This is true of ringleader Spencer Reinhard. Played in the cinematic sections by Barry Keoghan. There are some hints that he feels his privileged life means that he’ll never be a great artist. Still, there has to be another way?
The Build Up
I may have mentioned before my love for films like Killing Them Softly. Films that deal with rigmarole are a favourite. Movies that get down to the brass tacks of planning a murder or any kind of criminal activity.
They cut American Animals from the same cloth. These guys aren’t criminals, but they have to overcome each obstacle. They then have to recruit new members and have to work out who to trust. What began as two develops into a four-man operation. With that comes inter-personal struggles. The group then have to plan the robbery.
What the film does so well is how it dramatises the planning and make it engaging for you as a viewer. All the while they have to deal with exams, parents divorcing and other aspects of college life. Even though you never condone their actions you have a feeling bordering on respect.
The group disguise themselves as old men for a dry run. It was that image from the trailer that intrigued me in the first place.
The film even has some qualities reminiscent of a Sergio Leone western. By stretching out time by having one of the would-be robbers sharpen a pencil.
Simple yet effective.
The first attempt is tense. The main event is so much more.
The heist is without a doubt worth the admission alone. Although the build-up to the heist itself is what makes it so tense. All that planning, all that investment in the “characters”. It finally pays off in a sequence that made me remember why I love cinema so much.
Here’s the thing, do I go into detail?
It’s a true story so does that count when it comes to spoilers?
Let’s put it this way. I was on the edge of my seat the whole way through, not in the literal sense. You know when you’re taken in by something, and you lean into it, so you don’t miss a thing?
Kind of like how you’re reading this post?
Yeah, like that.
I went from holding my breath to covering my eyes, to nervous laughter and all the way back again. I could see that my friends were having a similar physiological reaction. When a film or story causes your body to change, it has done the job.
If you can get the audience to do that you deserve your mansion in the hills.
It’s one of the best heists of recent years.
You feel your stomach sink for these lads when the net closes in around them, even though they’re spoiled brats.
It may seem like I’m overhyping the film. There’s a chance I am but that’s only because going to see it with friends and enjoying it together is what it’s all about.