The American Animals director on heists gone wrong and deconstructing movies based on real life...
How did you first hear about the heist that forms the basis of American Animals?
I read about it on a flight and thought it was a great yarn. I got in touch with the guys involved in the heist, who were then serving a pretty long prison sentence, and we started writing letters back and forth. It was what they were telling me in their letters that made me begin to think there was something more than just a good heist movie in their story, and that it was more about these lost young men searching in all the wrong places for identity and meaning.
The film cuts between being a based-on-fact heist film and a documentary by talking to the real-life crims. Why that approach?
I was looking at whether there was a new way to tell a true story that you haven’t seen before, and by including the real guys you’re going to have a different kind of emotional connection to the story. We’ve all seen those movies that start with “based on a true story”, and then you suspect that most of it has been wildly fictionalised. This story was so outlandish that it didn’t need a lot of wild embellishment. I wanted to keep the audience sucked in by reminding them that it’s true and that these are real people and that the consequences were real.
Unlike other heist films that glamorise crime, this actually shows the real-life culprits showing remorse for their actions…
It’s kind of the anti-heist film. What would it really feel like if you or I tried to commit a robbery like this? In most heist films it’s this really slick operation, whereas the reality here is anything but that. That’s what I wanted to depict – what did it really look like when the wheels come off? In their mind these guys thought they were in Ocean’s 11; in reality it’s more like Dog Day Afternoon.