American Animals is not your average heist movie. It’s based on the little-known true story of four average college kids from Kentucky who surprised everyone in 2004 by executing, with astonishing incompetence, a robbery of the Transylvania University library for some rare and valuable books.
Continuing his interest in the nexus between fact and subjective storytelling displayed in The Imposter, Bafta-winning director Bart Layton takes this tale and produces something that is part heist movie, part documentary, part comedy, part social commentary. Spliced together with a fictionalised version of events played by actors are interviews with the real-life robbers who recount what happened with varying levels of convincing reliability. Unexpected plot twists are paralleled with Layton’s experimentation with film form, leaving the audience unsure of what kind of movie they are watching or whether we should root for our privileged anti-heroes who are horribly misplaced in their attempt to do something extraordinary with their lives. Film geeks are fed gentle satirical nods to other heist movies from Ocean’s 11to Goodfellas to Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
Layton also brings together two striking actors at the top of their game for the two central characters, Warren and Spencer: Evan Peters, of American Horror Story fame, and Barry Keoghan, who caught attention for his dark turn in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer – to fascinating effect. Jared Abrahamson as Eric and Blake Jenner as Chas Allen II complete a strong central foursome, and Ann Dowd is brilliant as librarian Betty Jean Gooch.
We caught up with Bart Layton at Somerset House ahead of a special screening of American Animals. He spoke to us about why he was drawn to the story, what it was like working with Peters and Keoghan and his approach as a filmmaker.
The producers also stopped to speak with us about what makes the story and the film so unique and the challenges of pulling off Layton’s vision for the movie.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 23rd August 2018.
Videos: Filippo L’Astorina/Maria Barrios
American Animals is released nationwide on 7th September 2018.
Watch the trailer for American Animals here: