Directed by Bart Layton
It sounds like a gimmick: four young idiots attempt a poorly planned heist because they’ve seen too many movies about oddball heroes pulling off robberies against the odds, and years later a movie gets made about them in which they play themselves, ruefully watching charismatic young actors re-enact their actions. A self-deconstructing true-crime documentary which sets out to put quotation marks around the word “true”? Yes: Bart Layton, maker of the brilliant and disturbing documentary The Imposter, has returned with another film which weaponises our willingness to be entertained by maverick antiheroes.
In 2003, a bored university student in Lexington, Kentucky, discovers that his campus library holds copies of some extremely rare and valuable books: valuable enough that on the black market they could fetch millions of dollars. He recruits some friends, they make a plan. We know from the outset that it won’t end well, but the film crackles with so much energy and ingenious technique that it’s easy to get swept up in the fun of it all. In other words, Layton gives us the experience of emotional complicity in the actions of entitled young fools who are about to discover the differ- ence between film and real life the hard way.
You could argue the insights on offer here are not profound ones. But the film is the ideal version of itself: smart, fast, and hard-hitting.
ABOVE— American Animals: smart, fast and hard-hitting.