American Animals

[edited a bit in at the end] Thumbs up or down? Holding my hand up making the wavering gesture. For effect, because really –

Took me so long to find something to watch. Every other thing’s a superhero film, for starters. Have watched a few good horrors lately, though, but nothing new I want to. Horror’s a whole ‘nother topic, though.

So, American Animals.

Plot: Four college kids plan and execute a theft of rare books including Audubon’s Birds of America from the Transylvania University Library, in Kentucky, in 2003. This is fictionalised, based-on stuff. The real people involved including parents and the librarian, are also interviewed throughout, in modern day times.

I wanted to enjoy it. The promotional image of them dressed as old men? Hilarious. Was in the mood for an arty heist film. Was excited to think of a good recommend for you. Some of it is brilliant. Whoever did the costume and set design and the props, they did a great job. Many people will say this movie is great, and rave about it, just like the majority of critics.

The pacing’s adequate, a bit repetitive for my liking in parts going back and forth on the plan without real reason for it, just because that’s what people might expect at that point.

Where the film falls down hard is the acting. I know Evan Peters from American Horror Story where he’s always good at playing characters that aren’t all there – literally in one season, where he’s a zombie. Haven’t seen all the seasons of that, just a few of the early ones. Maybe he’s been nuanced in that in later seasons, and great in other stuff, though I doubt it. He brings the same two states – dead or psychotic – to his role here, which is odd because he’s supposed to be an anarchic catalyst. I want charisma here. Instead, we get simmering angsty Fight Club extra zombie laced with screaming anger that goes on for far too long in far too many scenes. Screaming and saying fuck a lot is not acting, fucksakes.

To make matters worse, Peters’ foil is Barry Keoghan (had to google that), who is frustratingly indrawn (which is fine, just not when it’s near comatose and drooling at every turn) and prevaricates without conviction.

It’s a scheme so wantonly preposterous that Reinhard goes along with the sheer what-if adventure of it all, though as their theorizing gets ever more elaborate, and Lipka ropes nervy math whiz Borsuk and moneyed jock Allen into the circle, the line between pondering and active planning is imperceptibly crossed. As the stakes shift, the performances bristle and are brought into relief: All four actors do fine work crinkling and complicating their respective male archetypes, while Peters (evoking a young Willem Dafoe at points) gets the juiciest opportunities for grandstanding as the goofy-to-deranged Lipka. But it’s Keoghan who strikes softest and deepest as the anxious, tender heart of the operation, currents of moral caution and sporadic, exhilarated abandon warring across his remarkable face.

Guy Lodge, Variety

I was unaware there were two actors named Willem Dafoe. Interesting!

“Somebody stole the funny, son”

The director clearly grew up on Tarantino, Fight Club, Clerks, grunge, Reality Bites, all that and more. Yep, thought so and oh yes, born 1975. Nothing wrong with that but it feels old for these kids, who are also in the past (it’s supposed to be 2003). The overall effect of a 90s sensibility Gen – X director making a film based in those sensibilities, set in a different decade and layering that onto kids in the near mid 2000s, in 2019 with a documentary aspect is … confusing as that sentence. Ha, don’t even try re-reading that.

Obligatory convenience store theft and bonus Fargo reference

Kind of works, because it’s a documentary slash fiction. The real people involved are all interviewed throughout, which is cool. The mishmash of the past, the conflicting accounts, all works in a way, but also is a bit soupy. Soupy, what is that even. Not bloody clear, stylish, organic, I dunno.

Great soundtrack, absolutely loved it. Among the tracks, A little less conversation brightened it up for a few minutes, which was nice.

Some of the quotes that made it to the illustrious IMDB quote section:

Warren Lipka: Look, all I’m saying is that nothing will happen, unless you make something happen. We’re supposed to be hunter-gatherers, man. And our whole life, we’re just unwrapping shit. Packaging, packaging, packaging. The illusion of choice. It’s bullshit, man. Everyone in here thinks that they’re gonna win the lottery, but no one likes a ticket.

Seriously, man, fuck fraternities. The reason to be a part of that is so one day you can walk in the door of an office you never wanna go in to see a guy you never wanna meet, on the hopes that he might give you a job you never wanna fucking do.

Lipka

You’re taught your entire life that what you do matters and that you’re special. And that, there are things you can point towards that would… which’ll show that you’re special, that show you’re different, when, in all reality, those things… don’t matter. And you’re not special.

Lipka

I mean, some could deliver that and I’d be lapping it up, but not Peters.

I stopped thinking it must be near done and it was half way through. Damn. I didn’t finish it properly, skipped through after the heist, because fuck the screaming and I didn’t care about any of them one tiny bit. Watched the last scenes.

Worst of all, so many missed opportunities for real humour. Had a few chuckles, but damn, could have been the greatest black comedy.

Yep

Some entrancing moments with the rare books room and the Audubon folios. Those are some incredible items. The portrait of Audubon was also in the room, and had a moment of resonance that was lost in the muddy shallows of the film.

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme, 1826
Gloves?

The collection of 435 hand-colored prints, made from engravings of Audubon’s watercolours, measures more than 3 feet by 2 feet (90 centimetres by 60 centimetres) because Audubon wanted to paint the birds life size.

Last auctioned copy was in 2010, I think, sold for US$9.5 mill.
source

The other place (no doubt related to the acting but not entirely that) it falls down is in saying anything. I think it was intending to be about making your mark, or shortcuts, youth, all of those things, entitled kids, hopelessness, Fight Club stuff, I don’t really know, no that’s not true, I just didn’t care in the slightest. Frustrating, because the elements are there, portraying a decayed American spirit, the opposite of Audubon striding into the wilds to paint every bird of America, which he did, to the best of his knowledge, I believe, creating a work of art that is beautiful, lasting, and extremely valuable. But it didn’t hit me, any of that resonance, not directly from the performances or any of it.

Thumbs down for American Animals.

Hope you got a smile out of some of this, all the same.