Before I get started, I just want to point out that American Animals’ unusually high “Audience Score” on RottenTomatoes.com is almost certainly manipulated by the film’s distributor, MoviePass Ventures. Not that it’s a huge deal, but I get a kick out of it. Recent reports claim MoviePass Ventures also manipulated the Audience Score for its other new release—John Travolta’s Gotti—so I couldn’t help but wonder if the “audience members” who reviewed American Animals were real people. Sure enough, I noticed just about every “user” review is posted by an account that’s only ever rated American Animals. Most of the accounts don’t even have profile pictures.
If you wonder why I mention this, it’s because American Animals didn’t give me much to talk about. Writer/director Bart Layton’s film follows four middle-class college boys so bored with their lives that they attempt to rob their university library’s rare books collection just for thrills. Like every other film called “American Whatever”—American Beauty, American Psycho, American Hustle, American Honey and so on—American Animals fancies itself as a grand takedown of American values and the middle-class’ seedy underbelly. In case you’re wondering: yes, the film begins with an upside down shot of the American flag. That’s the lack of cleverness we’re dealing with here.
The narrative film is intercut with documentary-style interviews with the actual thieves, fresh out of jail, and their friends and families. In theory, this is definitely an interesting idea. However, the whole point of the robbery was that these dudes knew they were boring but they tried to make themselves seem interesting. Guess what? Even after the robbery, they’re still boring. It doesn’t help that American Animals is unusually somber for a film about such a ridiculous crime that’s perpetrated by morons. I really am scratching my head as to why this film takes itself so seriously. Sure, robbery is a serious crime. But these idiots got the idea from heist movies to dress up like old men and steal a book. Someone on set had to know how goofy that sounds, right?
It’s not that American Animals is a terrible film. It’s just not such a good film that you’ll rush home after the screening to post a glowing user review on RottenTomatoes.com. The film looks great and every actor elevates their character. Kudos to Barry Keoghan for making his character—an aspiring artist who thinks all great artists were so great because they suffered, so he wants to suffer, too—halfway watchable. Some of the stylized moments are genuinely cool ideas, even if they don’t have much to do with what’s actually going on in the film. Still, I’m not going to remember American Animals in a week. It’s about as insignificant as films can get and, apparently, MoviePass Ventures knows it.
Grade = C-