American Animals Film Review
“A scarcely believable true story about a self-absorbed artist who seeks out his own artificial, self inflicted inspirational torture, which inexorably leads to a starving artist feasting on prison food”
Steal a dime and they put you in jail; steal an art haul and they don’t quite make you king, but create an unflattering, stylised movie about your exploits. And so with American Animals, a film about the true story of American students who set about stealing €12m of art, albeit with less than impeccable planning.
This is “Dumb and Dumber” with college degrees.
The director is keen to point out that is not based upon a true story, it IS a true story. This is fortunate in many ways; if this was a fictional heist film, the screenwriter would have been fired for incompetence, for dreaming up a completely implausible plot.
An interesting aspect of the film is the intertwining of the reconstruction with real life documentary interviews of the real people behind the story.
Some students spend their college days drinking Dutch Gold and stealing traffic cones; the protagonist here spends his days lamenting his lack of inspirational oppression. He envies Van Gough whose torture leads to a dichotomy of madness and fruitful inspiration. The somewhat disturbing implication here is that the motivation behind the art heist here is not merely the e12m haul; incredibly, a significant portion of the motivation appears to be the pursuit of a self-inflicted torture through the adrenaline-soaked excitement of planning a heist.
The heist is the most hackneyed of all film genres. How do you vary it? Make it about students and art. Does this unique take fully succeed? The viewers will decide.
While they are planning to steal e12m, the only stage where we feel they encounter a moral dilemma is when they have to decide how to “manage” the elderly librarian, as they put it euphemistically.
Is this just about four incredibly stupid guys in an American college?
Possibly. It certainly does feel like a car crash in very, very, slow motion.
However, given our purile fascination with car crashes, this may well prove popular when released in Ireland, helpfully at the end of the summer, when Irish people may be once more willing to step out of the sun into the darkness of the cinema.
American Animals opens in UK and Irish cinemas August 24th, and in the US September 7th.
Review by Fergus Keane one of the hosts of No Budget.