Primarily filmed in Charlotte and on the campus of Davidson College, the fact-based crime saga American Animals smoothly blends interviews with the actual players and dramatic recreations by the actors portraying them, sometimes in the same scene.
Written and directed by Bart Layton, who took a similar approach with the even more audacious The Imposter, the film centers on the 2004 robbery of rare books — reproductions of which were made by Asheville’s Azalea Bindery — at Kentucky’s Transylvania University and stars two of the most appealing up-and-coming young actors in Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) and Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past).
Unspooling the college-age friends’ desire to live an extraordinary life through risky means, the film toys with the notion of conflicting memories and inserts various points of view into the electric narrative, constantly reminding viewers that they’re watching a movie.
Propelled by a kicking rock soundtrack and wild card personalities, American Animals loses some momentum during the heist itself while nonetheless holding true to how these amateurs would have reacted in that situation.
The (apparent) inevitability of the criminals being caught also puts somewhat of a damper on the escalating tension, though their willingness to candidly discuss the events and each other more than compensates for this shortcoming and lends the film an exciting — albeit borderline uncomfortable — confessionary tone.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Starts June 22 at Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: The Orchard)