WHAT I LIKED: Bart Layton's 'American Animals,' isn't really a heist movie - it's instead a film that uses a real-life story of that nature to unlock a commentary on the longing that many have for something out of the ordinary to occur to make their lives more interesting, and what can happen when they force that change. Yes, by following this group of bored adolescents planning to steal some valuable books from a university library to shock their 'banal' existences out of routine, what Layton does as the inevitable consequences of this become ever-clearer is to demonstrate how the everyday normality shouldn't be avoided, but appreciated - and that's a theme that translates to chapters of many people's lives - from teenage ignorance like this, to the concept of of the midlife crisis.
That makes the film a refreshingly different beast from many genre alternatives, but it's only so successful because Layton does such a good job of firstly demonstrating how these young people felt, and secondly of showing those awful inevitable consequences of their actions. Indeed on the one hand here you really are able to paint a very comprehensive picture of why these young people are drawn to do what they did, as the script takes lots of time to explore this and give the great central performances room to develop engaging characters, and interviews with the real-life perpetrators as adults are cleverly intercut to lend some proper perspective. Then, when the whole thing starts to spiral out of control and it becomes clear how ridiculous and awful what they're planning is, the film pulls no dramatic punches as the heist is properly gripping and rather horrifying to watch, and the affects we see on their lives are very overtly demonstrated.
When you then couple all that serious stuff with some very clever editing and manipulation of time-frames, as well as some dry, whity humour to go along with the social commentary, what you've got is a very engaging film that's crucially genuinely about something and delves into that in a thoroughly comprehensive way.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: It may have been beneficial to develop the kids a little more before the heist so that we can feel their dissatisfaction rather than just get told about it.
VERDICT: A film with a real-life heist that's actually about far more than that, 'American Animals,' is a constantly engaging and often profound drama that shows director Bart Layton going from strength to strength.