American Animals

Jun 23, 2018

Interesting story about a troubled crime that may be accurate, or not.

American Animals

Grade: B

Director: Bart Layton (The Imposter)

Screenplay: Layton

Cast: Barry Keoghan ((The Killing of a Sacred Deer),Ann Dowd (Garden State, Hereditary), Evan Peters (X-Men: Apocalypse)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 56 min

by John DeSando

Welcome to the saddest movie of the year: American Animals. The facile title’s suggestion of the metaphoric: that like Darwin’s evolution, four young American men, coming from a comfortable middle class, make a “survival” choice to rob a library of treasured books like originals of Audubon’s Birds of America and Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

The robbers have no notion of propriety or how to pull a heist, despite the films they may have watched Reservoir Dogs and Ocean’s 11. One of their t motives is to inject adventure into their lives, and they do to the tune of seven years in the pen.

From detailed crime depictions such as Dog Day Afternoon to Heat, film has recorded the mechanics of robbery enough that even these clueless tyros could have planned better. Although the trailers for American Animals would lead the audience to think this bungled job has a sense of humor, it does not. It is a sad commentary on the willingness of young people to go after the easy way to adventure and wealth when they should know better.

One curious technique first-time-narrative director-writer Bart Leyton uses is to intersperse the action with talking-head commentary from the four original robbers. They are articulate and sympathetic, much as the fine cast is, and therefore add a docudrama authenticity to what might be assumed a casual play with the truth.

On the other hand, the testimonials intrude on the flow of the increasingly tense prelude to the day, and that awkward, tragic day itself. Regardless, it’s possible to enjoy the interludes as intriguing testimony to the naiveté and foolishness of these promising young men.

American Animals is a cautionary tale about choosing the lawless, easy way when this incident tells us in the end that crime doesn’t pay. Yet, it can be amusing, and it is.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at