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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS Four college kids plan to steal historical documents worth millions from their local university.

Barry Keogh, Evan Peters


Bart Layton loves a true story. And why not, especially when it has the capacity to become something as wildly, stylishly entertaining as AMERICAN ANIMALS. His previous docu-drama THE IMPOSTER was the gripping story of an American kid who went missing then, three years later, turns up in Spain. Or was it the same kid? This time the story is a lot less doco and a lot more drama as he recounts a spectacular heist that goes spectacularly wrong.

“Ever feel like you’re waiting for something to happen, that thing that could make your life special?” laments college student Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keogh). Unfortunately for him, he’s good pals with Warren Lipka, a no less likeable but equally aimless teenager. Unfortunately, because Warren has been watching too many Hollywood heist movies. When he learns that the local university houses books worth millions that are guarded by a lone librarian, he ropes in Spencer to steal them. It’s an audacious plan, planned meticulously. But like most things Hollywood, it’s not all that, you know, real.

Layton’s mesmerising film distills the best of youthful angst and dramatised documentaries like TOUCHING THE VOID, and lashes it together with a visual bravado Soderbergh would be proud of. Then the unexpected as Layton pulls on screen the real Spencer, the real Warren and everyone else involved in their messy story. As he cuts between actual and dramatised life, the story is propelled at breakneck speed to an unavoidable ending, creating something urgent, fresh and entertaining.

Directorial flourishes aside it is the often competing reflections of the real life players that kicks this into goal. Layton feeds us ‘alternative facts’ of the same event from different perspectives: truth isn’t the end goal here, more a distillation of memory. It’s a sly reinterpretation of documentary and one that sits perfectly in the new paradigm of false news. It toys with expectation in the best possible way until two facts remains standing: boys grow into men and Hollywood isn’t, you know, real. If only someone had told Warren.

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