Plot: In a special, secured room within a library at Transylvania University rest several rare and valuable books, the kind of collector’s items that would fetch millions on the open market. The books are kept under strict watch and you need an appointment to even be in the same room with them, let alone be allowed to browse a few priceless pages within. As soon as Spencer (Barry Keoghan) hears the librarian talk about the millions of dollars in value, his mind races with the idea of a heist and the wealth that could result. At first, he and his friend Warren (Evan Peters) start to plan the robbery as a fun diversion and he doesn’t plan to follow through, but soon things escalate and it looks like the heist might happen for real.

Entertainment Value: American Animals is based on real life events and much like I, Tonya, takes an approach that involves the usual narrative elements mixed with interview segments. But whereas that movie interviewed the performers in character as their real life counterparts, American Animals features the real people involved, to tell the story in their own words. So part of the movie is the fictionalized, cinematic account, then the actual people provide interviews, so this is a blend of drama and documentary, with an emphasis on the drama side. The concept works well, as the interviews are candid and interesting, often used to shed light on motivations or cast doubt on how some things go, depending on the perspectives involved. I can see how this kind of approach might throw some viewers off, but once you get used to the style, it flows well and never feels disjointed. The escalation of tension combines with an almost absurd sense of humor for an odd, but effective cocktail that proves once again that life is stranger than fiction. If you like offbeat true crime stories or colorful dramas, give American Animals a shot.

This is an ensemble piece, but Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters take more of the spotlight than their costars and turn in solid performances. Keoghan always a quirky presence and that is true here, but he seems more grounded in this role, so not as stilted or offbeat as usual. Peters is great as the hapless, shady Warren and he adds a lot of the humor, through the sheer weirdness of the character. The two have good chemistry as well, so the bond of friendship seems authentic and you can see how the escalation happens, which is crucial here. The cast also includes Blake Jenner, Udo Kier, Ann Dowd, and Jared Abrahamson. The real life crew is involved via the interview segments and while the cast doesn’t capture the look or mannerisms of the real life versions all that well, the performances are more than capable.

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