Why would a quartet of 20-year-old desperados (Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson, and Blake Jenner) choose to knock over a university’s special collections library? Try $12 million dollars in rare books, with only one old lady (Ann Dowd) guarding them. For every great documentary that’s been spun, there are dozens of cine-illiterate, shoot-now-figure-it-out-later examples that exist solely to spit out talking points in choking closeup. In pleasant contrast, American Animals is a narrative drama wherein beats the heart of a documentary. The one outstanding difference is, having served over seven years apiece for their participation in the failed robbery, our four card-carrying ex-cons are given supporting roles, adding their own onscreen commentary track of sorts. Writer/director Bart Layton (The Imposter) knows full well the the difference between dramatic reenactment and TV docudrama, and he shrewdly blows any similarities to the latter out of the water. (2018) — Scott Marks
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