Telling a shockingly true story of four friends planning to rob their university library of a book worth $8 million, American Animals is the heist film this year deserved after letting us down with Oceans 8. Combining documentary and drama into one fantastic film, American Animals is a triumph.
Opening the film are the lines “This isn’t based on a true story… This IS a true story” and this immediately sets the tone. The narrative, however convoluted and shocking, actually happened, and this adds more weight to the film. Ultimately, the fact that the events are known about does give an insight into how they might play out, but this doesn’t for a second ruin the storytelling.
The film’s interesting execution method is similar to that of ‘I, Tonya’. The latter used faked interviews with the actors playing older versions of the characters, describing the events and their thoughts and feelings. American Animals does the same, with one major twist. It’s the real people talking. The actual four men who were involved are talking directly to the camera, telling their version of events and, ultimately, disagreeing with each other. It’s an interesting insight into memory, character flaws and unreliable narrators, as each of them reveal more about themselves and each other over the course of the film. The actors playing the guys within the film are equally fantastic, and seem to have learnt their characteristics very well. The film does a good job of switching between the replicated events and the interviews, with the editing ensuring the pace is never lost from cutting into the action. While slightly bloated, the film never drags and instead takes you on a dizzying ride.
The atmosphere and tone of the film takes a major shift halfway through the film. It begins quite light hearted, jolly and in some places humorous as the four students plan how the heist will happen. However, once the day arrived, the tone suddenly darkens dramatically. It becomes intense and brooding, and perfectly replicates the feelings of the characters on the day of the heist. It’s an impressive feat to make the viewers feel almost queasy while watching the characters but this film really manages to replicate the nerves and guilt felt by them. The film is careful not to make heroes out of the lead characters and instead stays fairly morally ambiguous, allowing the audience to decide for themselves. A final interview with another person does provide a shocking end to the film when the full consequences of the events are finally realised.
Overall this film is an absolute triumph. Its method of storytelling is brilliantly done and fantastically blurs the line between fiction and reality.