American Animals arouses two pairs of googly-eyes per ogled, oogly, guy. Its four “true-story” Transy University boys, bored to a primordial stupor, snift a whiff of their own ass, a salty vestige of forgotten instincts, and gain a marauder, or animal drive to pillage and plunder— lest privilege pestle them soft in the trunk, impotent in the front, and dull in the skull.
Writer/Director Bart Layton (The Imposter), prescribes the American people Darwinian wit, an opening quote from The Origin Of Species which describes us as realigned, migrated cave spawn, apes with straightened backs and suits that progressed past the O.G evolutionary chart and that’re developing an arthritic slouch that’ll depress us back to chimphood.
Our corrected primates, Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Erik Borsuk, and Chas Allen, will inexorably regress to animal instinct. But many-a-couched generation have tapered their untapped instincts off-tune. The regression is rusty - they opt for a robbery gone awry - and edified institutions ensure they do their time.
It must’ve once seemed easy. Millions in rare books, propped comatose in the glass displays and lockless coffin under drawers of Transy University’s Special Collections Library, slumbered under the nearsighted eyes of its sole protector: The wholesome librarian, one Miss Betty Jean Gooch. Our apes ambitions needn’t travel far, and over just a single traffic cone! Or so they fancied. Betty Jean Gooch proved heartier than a cone and more sophisticated than a hurtle. She bruises, cries and pees herself in the wake of their quarter-life crisis, these bored and boring boys.
But American Animals finds them interesting and sexy — enough for a movie. Interesting enough to cast talented actors and intercut their dramatizations with interviews of their real-life counterparts. Sexy enough for 2 hours screen time, and for a copy-shot of that track-in that dug through loose fit linen into the Joker’s ass in The Dark Knight’s opening robbery. Enough that when the film pretends to criticize their actions and empathize with its victim, Betty Jean Gooch, in literally its final minutes, you can only scoff.
Layton’s camera orbs each of his boys. They have gravitational pull over every cinematic move and swoon with no deliberation. A grammar is not attempted. No technique develops to a cumulative effect. There are only one-offs, flourishes, and stylistic punchlines stolen from other films. Layton doesn’t think to borrow their foreplay.
And because the writer/director hasn’t salvaged an enticing motive for these men, American Animals, about a third of the way in, will lunge desperately in all directions. It tries for a contradicting he said/she said, with the real-life Transy boys relaying their versions of the story in close juxtaposition. Sharp cuts cue their contradictions as if Aha! We’ve found something! Indeed, Warren describes a minor player as wearing a blue scarf and ponytail, and Spencer can’t recall him with such features. That’s as deep as American Animals’ investigative journalism ever digs, and yet it’ll announce every non-discovery with a cinematic wink, a pat on its own back; A cringy meet cute repeated ad nauseum for the rest of us.
And then the robbery comes, and no better than these boys, the film runs it for frills. Slow-Mo on their costumed entrance (In their disguises these apes are interchangeable). Cue the slow electric sliding doors closing on a getaway mini-van gag. Break off the rails for visceral camera shake. Spike the frame rate to accentuate every nerve. Frame the librarian pissing herself through Warren’s perspective so it is his torment, not hers. Pretend that the deeds of the boys you’ve researched, interviewed, funded, written, directed, and sensationalized a 2-hour movie for are unforgivable. Show ten-second soft self-critiques (none felt so obliged to apologize) from the real-life culprits and brief interjections from skeptical parties that were neglected the rest of the film.
Give the real-life Betty Jean Gooch her 20 seconds of screentime — enough for a movie.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OYBEquZ_j0 (Joker Ass-Shot 1:20)
Give the real-life Betty Jean Gooch fher 20 seconds screentime— enough for a movie.