"Thrilling Heist Movie with a Message"
AMERICAN ANIMALS is a Sundance winner, and a true story, about four young men who try one of the most audacious heists in US history. Inserting interviews with the real-life people involved, the movie blends cinematic storytelling and documentary filmmaking in a fresh, energetic way. The interviews give insight into the characters, their thoughts and their motivations, which helps make AMERICAN ANIMALS much deeper than a simple heist movie. Audiences should still be cautioned since the movie has abundant strong foul language and a few sexual references, but ultimately presents a strong moral message about not seeking greatness in the wrong places.
In the fall of 2003, Spencer Reinhard and Warren Lipka want more from their mundane college lives. As a painter, Spencer wants something exciting to happen in his life that would give him deeper insight and make him a better artist. Warren is more of a “wild child” who lives for thrills and also wants more out of his life.
When Spencer takes a field trip to the “rare collections” room at the university library, he’s introduced to a room full of rare books and paintings worth millions of dollars. It doesn’t take long for the two men to hatch a plan to steal the collection once they realize it’s only guarded by a single old librarian. This heist could be the thing that makes their lives extraordinary…if they can actually pull it off successfully.
AMERICAN ANIMALS is an engaging story that will have viewers entertained from start to finish. It includes interviews with the real men behind the crime. This gives the movie more authenticity, although the stylized narrative storytelling keeps it cinematic and emotionally engaging. The movie also plays on the memories of the people involved, as various people remember things slightly differently. The story itself is also fascinating as the men not only plan the heist but have to solve the problem of how to sell the stolen artifacts once they acquire them. It all builds into a suspenseful heist sequence that fully pulls the viewer into the action.
Beyond the spectacle and the storytelling techniques, there is a deeper layer to AMERICAN ANIMALS that’s worth exploring. Throughout the movie, Spencer’s character constantly questions the morality of the heist and wonders if he can actually go through with it. The idea of stealing the artifacts has a true snowball effect, starting with a couple college guys wondering if they can pull off such a daring heist. In one of the interviews, the real Spencer explains that he kept waiting for the moment when they would reach an insurmountable obstacle that would allow him to back out before going through with the plan. Yet, when the would-be thieves discover they can actually pull off their crime, Spencer is faced with the moral choice of whether or not he can be part of the heist, especially if it means the librarian might get hurt.
For the movie’s first two acts, the morals of the four men are not just questionable, but flat-out wrong. Audiences may feel they’re watching a few foul-mouthed, hard-partying college boys trying to make a bunch of money. However, the movie’s third act turns the entire idea on its head as the men wrestle with the consequences of how the heist plays out eventually. During the final interviews, characters reflect on the men’s motivations and their selfishness in wanting to commit immoral acts to give their lives meaning. As the characters fumble the heist, make mistakes and get in way over their heads, there’s no point where the movie itself suggests that the heist is a good idea. Thus, by the end, AMERICAN ANIMALS leaves viewers with a strong moral message against trying to cut corners for greedy selfish gain.
That said, AMERICAN ANIMALS earns its R rating by containing abundant foul language, a few sexual references, some marijuana use, and moments of college partying. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
Sundance winner and true crime story AMERICAN ANIMALS blends real-life interviews with an energetic, fun narrative style to tell a cautionary tale. Two college students in Kentucky, Spencer and Warren, decide to steal artifacts from the library’s “rare collections” room. However, they and two other partners find themselves in over their heads. Meanwhile, Spencer debates the morality of his choice to make his life extraordinary through the crime.
It’s refreshing to see a heist movie that has all the fun of the planning, yet a strong moral compass that constantly reminds viewers this heist isn’t going well. At no point does the movie make theft or violence look enticing as other heist movies do. Ultimately, the movie is much more of an exploration of a generation of young people who want to be extraordinary, and some of the misguided ways they try to satisfy that misguided desire. This morality is refreshing in a heist movie. However, AMERICAN ANIMALS earns its R rating by containing abundant foul language, brief lewd references, moments of college partying, and some marijuana use. Extreme caution is advised.