American Animals

This flick is a must see.

From the same director that brought us a gripping crime story in 2012 with “The Imposter” comes another nail-biting thriller for moviegoers to endure. Written and directed by Bart Layton, “American Animals” chronicles the true story of four Kentucky college-aged boys and their attempt to steal rare artwork from a Lexington campus.

Director Layton’s unique on-screen presentation of the boys’ exploits is both entertaining and remarkable to watch unfold. Using a fascinating mixture of interviews, Layton takes us from the bizarre concept of robbing the special collections section of the Transylvania University library to the actual attempt. Luckily, the buildup from preparation, planning to execution of the heist also provides ample time to learn more about these four instigators and their friendships. 

Easily the year’s best suspense thriller so far, “American Animals” begins with teases of how far this group will go to experience a significant, life-changing event. Worried about a bland and unremarkable future ahead of them, the young men are convinced something needs to happen in order to positively change their lives. Either they wait (and hope) for that special event to occur, or they seize the moment themselves. 

Collectively, they decide on the latter.

The film’s second half provides rampant edge-of-your-seat moments as the boys’ elaborate preparation moves from the planning stage to implementation. The riveting finale is the culmination of poor decisions throughout the felony process. Also captivating is a self-appointed ringleader in denial of his true influence over the other three participants; the trio of followers falling into a pack mentality.

Patience during the film’s first half of background is wildly rewarded with intense, sheer panic in the movie’s final hour. 

“American Animals” harkens back to “The Imposter”, based on the 1993 disappearance of a 13-year old boy in San Antonio. This roller coaster journey by the same director is just as satisfying. 

Plus, you’ll never look at college libraries the same again.  

“American Animals” is a brilliant offering about friends sharing in a bad notion that goes from premeditated to perplexing in a blink of an eye. Through the exceptional editing of interviews and a blended cast of all sorts, “American Animals” shines as a nerve wrecking true story told in a spellbinding manner that’s not to be missed.

Grade: A

Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the Reel Brief movie blog at  Email him at

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