True-life col­lege boy crime ca­per touches on deeper is­sues

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

ON closer in­spec­tion, the fauna in sub­ur­ban Ken­tucky isn’t as tame as movie­go­ers might rea­son­ably ex­pect.

Based on a true story — and in­ter­wo­ven with talk­ing head in­ter­views from the re­al­life pro­tag­o­nists upon whom it is based — this bold, self­con­fi­dent docu­d­rama ex­am­ines the strange and un­nat­u­ral be­hav­iour of four or­di­nary bipeds raised on a diet of heist movies and mid­dle-class priv­i­lege.

Drink­ing com­pe­ti­tions, hu­mil­i­at­ing ini­ti­a­tion rites, porn-ob­sessed room­mates … univer­sity isn’t all it was cracked up for bud­ding artist Spencer Rein­hard (The Killing Of A Sa­cred Deer’s Barry Keoghan). Disen­chanted, he re­con­nects with his reckless, black sheep for­mer friend, War­ren Lipka (Evan Peters).

Hang­ing out in the lo­cal carpark, watch­ing bored hooli­gans set fire to shop­ping trol­leys, Rein­hard de­scribes to War­ren his tour of Tran­syl­va­nia Univer­sity’s rare book col­lec­tion, which houses orig­i­nal edi­tions of John James Audubon’s 19th­cen­tury mas­ter­piece Birds Of Amer­ica, as well Charles Dar­win’s On The Ori­gin Of The Species, from which the film draws its ti­tle.

Lipka seizes upon the idea of steal­ing the price­less books, which are guarded by a lit­tle old lady. And the two young men be­come so in­volved in the plan­ning of the heist, the far-fetched scheme be­gins to gain its own mo­men­tum. A cou­ple more as­so­ci­ates — num­bers man Eric Bor­suk (Jared Abra­ham­son) and cashed-up get­away driver Chas Allen (Blake Jen­ner) — are re­cruited to help them pull off the dar­ing day­light rob­bery.

They adopt aliases such as Mr Pink and Mr Black af­ter Quentin Tarantino’s cult clas­sic Reser­voir Dogs and dis­guise them­selves as old men with fake beards. Ev­ery­thing falls apart, how­ever, when the ama­teur gang­sters come faceto-face with the phys­i­cal re­al­ity of their ro­man­tic fan­tasy.

Their treat­ment of mid­dleaged li­brar­ian Betty Jean “BJ” Gooch (Ann Dowd of The Hand­maid’s Tale) is played with sober­ing nat­u­ral­ism. Al­though she doesn’t ap­pear to have suf­fered any last­ing phys­i­cal in­jury, the film cap­tures just how aw­ful and hu­mil­i­at­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence was for Gooch as she lay bound and ter­ri­fied on the floor.

Amer­i­can An­i­mals is a strange and com­pelling crea­ture, jux­ta­pos­ing the young men’s bad-boy role­play­ing with ob­ser­va­tions from their older, per­haps wiser real-life coun­ter­parts and their fam­i­lies as they try to make sense of what hap­pened.

Nar­ra­tors are un­re­li­able, mem­o­ries prove con­tra­dic­tory, per­spec­tives con­flict. The real BJ Gooch makes an ap­pear­ance to­wards the end of the film, of­fer­ing some per­cep­tive ob­ser­va­tions about her as­sailants.

An au­da­cious, stylised col­lege boy crime ca­per that touches upon deeper is­sues such as youth­ful re­bel­lion and white male en­ti­tle­ment.

OPENS THURS­DAY

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