Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Book Plot: The heist movie visits the library in “American Animals.”

Photograph courtesy of Film4 Productions.

We already know it’ll end badly.

Maybe we’ve heard the story before, or we’ve seen the trailer. Hell, even the first five minutes of the film tells us. So then why do we watch “American Animals?”

Writer/director Bart Layton quickly captivates his audience with a fascinating true story of four college boys who try to pull off the most ridiculous heist, and it’s all thanks to perspective.

It starts with a visit to the on-campus library at Transylvania University, Kentucky. Spencer (Barry Keoghan), an artist, notes that the rare books section is only guarded by one librarian and a locked door and tells his friend, Warren (Evan Peters), this information. Warren, the “ring leader” in this scenario, immediately convinces Spencer to plan a heist with him in order to profit from the near-$12 million value of the books within.

But the boys need help. They rope in Eric (Jared Abrahamson) as the “brains” of the operation, smoothing out the details of the plan, and Chas (Blake Jenner) as the getaway driver. And the rest goes down in history.

The film expertly laces together interviews of the four real-life protagonists and their families with dramatized scenes acted out by Keoghan, Peters, Abrahamson and Jenner. This docudrama structure often plays out unevenly, feeling more like a History Channel or Hallmark special, but, recently, we’ve seen an uptick in films that are getting the hang of it—films like “Touching the Void,” “Jeremiah Tower” and the most recent, “I, Tonya,” which even dramatized the interviews.

What makes these films so much more engaging than the typical docudrama? Filmmakers are beginning to learn how to play with perspective, telling the story not exactly as it occurred, but how the interviewees say it occurred (contradictions and all).

“American Animals” goes even one step further, at times even inserting the real people into the dramatizations like mirages. And while the film could have held its own without the interviews, that extra bit of reality stirs some energy into the story. The juxtaposition of the interviews with the dramatization is at times startling, comical and even sobering.

There are particularly good performances for Keoghan and Peters, who, hand in hand, nail the well-meaning stupidity of youth. And that’s the story that is really being told. It’s a tale of a bunch of kids who were too eager, too greedy and too naive to understand what they were really getting into.

Now, nearly 15 years later, not only can these young men see through a new perspective but so can we. This is a film you won’t want to miss.

“American Animals” comes to Midtown Cinema this July.

Midtown Cinema is located at 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit


July Special Events
At Midtown Cinema

Central PA Open Screen
Thursday, July 5, 9 p.m.

Beatles Tribute Series
“Yellow Submarine” (1968)
Friday, July 20, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 25, 7:30 p.m.

“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” (1978)
Sunday, July 22, 2 p.m.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1978)
Tuesday, July 24, 7:30 p.m.

“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)
Sunday, July 29, 7 p.m.

Outdoor Film Series
Movies start at dusk, rain date is following day

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971)
Friday, July 6

“Ghostbusters” (1984)
Friday, July 27

“Toy Story” (1995)
Friday, Aug. 24

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