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21 Jun 2018

An Original Caper Film: 'American Animals' Mixes Documentary Elements and Excellent Acting to Tell a Compelling Heist Story

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A scene from American Animals. A scene from American Animals.

American Animals is a heist movie based on a true story—and the film has an original twist.

Writer-director Bart Layton has made a narrative film based on the real-life robbery of treasured collectibles by four young men. Layton casts the four with the great talents of Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, Barry Keoghan and Jared Abrahamson, resulting in an exciting and funny retelling of the heist, which had some normal guys dressing like old men to steal paintings and Darwin books from a kindly librarian (Ann Dowd).

The twist: Layton also gets the real-life people to tell their accounts of what actually happened, so the film has a true documentary element. Rather than playing like some campy criminal re-enactment TV show, the film comes together in a way in which the real guys are right at home in the proceedings. It’s a genius move that gives the movie some real-life heft—without taking away from the drama and craziness of the crime. In fact, their presence truly enhances everything, making this one of the more unique crime films in memory.

Peters is terrific as Warren Lipka, the bad-boy mastermind of the group. (Lipka himself makes for an entertaining counterpart in his interview segments.) Jenner continues to be a great up-and-coming actor, while Keoghan impressively adds to a resume that includes Dunkirk and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

One of the movie’s great elements is the difference between the storytelling and the actual interviews—something Layton comically exploits on more than one occasion. The result is a movie that gets high marks for originality along with its solid performances. You’ve never seen anything quite like it.

American Animals is now playing at Mary Pickford Is D’Place (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 760-328-7100) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

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