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American Animals, Local Hero, and “Up” by Cardi B

American Animals

Hawk: On Hulu right now is one of my absolute favorite movies of 2018, American Animals. Directed by documentary filmmaker Bart Layton (The Imposter), the film is a docudrama chronicling the 2004 Transylvanian University heist carried out by four starry-eyed students. Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan), Chas Allen III (Blake Jenner) and Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) note that the university houses an incredibly valuable edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, a beautifully illustrated tome guarded by…a librarian. What follows is elaborate planning, trips to Amsterdam to meet with black market buyers, and old man disguises, among other things.

This is all a true story (as far as anyone knows), and to tell it, Layton actually tracked down the real-life perpetrators of the crime (having been released from prison years ago) and interviewed them, playing their own recollection of the events over the actors’ recreation, oftentimes blending reality and the film in a way that is extremely satisfying to watch. There are even moments where the character will mention, for example, a man in a blue scarf he had to meet. The film then halts, and the real-life counterpart backtracks and corrects the color of the scarf to purple, and the scene restarts with the amended details. It’s such a dynamic and exhilarating style that keeps the movie going at a terrific pace, even before the actual heist. There are even moments where the actor and the actual person share the frame.

To boot, this constant shift between documentary and drama counters the cinematic flair of a heist movie with the cold reality that tiny mistakes will result in a domino effect that ends up dooming the operation, and the noir trappings of this story give way to real consequences that don’t stop when the credits roll. These boys fancy themselves amongst the ranks of Danny Ocean and Sorkin’s Mark Zuckerberg, though none of them have the ability to pull this off as cleanly as they fantasize—although there is a beautifully directed fantasy heist sequence in which Lipka imagines the perfect crime. The reality is an ugly, harrowing ordeal that doesn’t pull punches with the trauma and fear inflicted during the crime. And yet, Layton’s confident direction makes all of it shine distinctively.
Layton’s script is no slouch either: it’s sharp, engaging, funny, and paints the characters (acted to perfection, particularly by Peters and Keoghan) in a light that makes you understand why they yearn for more, yet makes very clear that they’re going about it the wrong way. There are so many daring choices made for the production of this film, and without Layton’s outstanding level of confidence in seeing them through, any one of these could have been the slip-up to failure like the boys themselves. But it stands tall as one of the best crime films of the last several years, and it still holds up under rewatch.

Written by TV Obsessive

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