American Animals 2018 ***

Writer/director Bart Layton hit big with The Informer, and he brings a similarly edgy sensibility to American Animals, a true-crime thriller in which the stakes are small; a stolen book. It’s not just any book, but John James Audubon‘s The Birds of America which is housed in a weak-security specialist wing of a university library. A group of boys decide to steal the text, hoping to fence it to a dealer (Udo Kier, sinister as ever). American Horror Story’s Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan from A Killing of a Sacred Deer and Blake Jenner (Everyone Wants Some) are a capable team as actors, and they double-down on the fact that the boys were poorly prepared for the heist; it’s all the more agonising because the boys are foolish rather than truly criminal. Regular interruptions from the real culprits are used to skilfully muddy the water; there’s a game going on about remembering how the story went, and although there’s no great pay-off, American Animals is a punky and amusing fable. As Layton’s first effort as a screenwriter, it’s promising work.


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