Bart Layton’s (The Imposter, SFF 2012) first feature is a wildly entertaining docu-fiction hybrid about four young men who attempt one of the most audacious art-heists in history.
American Animals is an unbelievable but true story of four college students who are determined to transcend their boring middle class existence. They hatch a plot to pull off an incredible heist: stealing a number of incredibly valuable volumes from their college’s under-protected rare books collection. Using a great cast of young talents like Barry Keoghan and Blake Jenner, Layton’s brilliant strategy is to also incorporate the four actual subjects into the film. Older, and perhaps wiser, these four men reflect on their past misdeeds, frequently contradicting each other in their Rashomon-like testimonies. Quite unlike any other heist film, American Animals is an energetic, boundary-pushing thriller.
Bart Layton, whose 2012 hybrid documentary The Imposter hinged on the tension between facts and subjective storytelling…brings that same preoccupation to a (mostly) narrative form for the first time, and the results are sensational: a riveting college-boy crime caper that speeds along on pure movie-adrenaline, before U-turning into a sobering reflection on young male privilege and entitlement. – Guy Lodge, Variety
Both as a writer and director, Layton delivers the dramatic goods here with the skill of a pro at the top of his game, while adding the rueful perspective of time's reassessment of youthful indiscretions; this has to rate among the most accomplished and fully realized big-screen debuts of recent times. – Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter