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Review: 'American Animals' will steal your funny bone

Posted Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 4:40 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at 3:55 PM Central

by John Couture

Let's face it. We have an unnatural preoccupation with heist films. Whether it's Ocean's Eleven, Heat or Point Break, we have a soft spot in our hearts for the all-American heist. There have been so many over the years that I'm surprised that the Oscars hasn't given them their own category yet.

Whether it's a more serious film like Heat or more comical like the Ocean's films, there's just something about them that pique our interest. American Animals falls more into the latter category, but there are certainly dramatic elements. The film is based on a true story and features segments where they talk to the real would-be heisters themselves, giving the film a real documentary feel at times.

American Animals follows a crew of young men who decide to strike it rich by stealing rare books from their local college library. They bite off more than they can chew, though, when the rare bird books prove to be more trouble than they are worth and more difficult to fence.

This is yet another true story this week, but it seems that this one is more accurate when it comes to the facts. The heist in question remains on the FBI's list of most-significant art theft cases, so it does have that enduring quality that makes for a classic film. Above all, I think one of the reasons that this film hits home is the utter absurdity of the heist itself.

When you think about great heists, you immediately think of banks and cash and diamonds, not books about birds. This is the sort of specific treasure that would leave you scratching your head. I mean, who would buy a rare book about birds and how much would they actually pay?

As it turns out, there is quite a group of interested parties and they are allegedly willing to pay a fortune. This heist reminds me of one that I read about recently that is also supposedly being turned into a film, "Sex on the Moon." Despite the eye-catching title, I strongly recommend the book written by Ben Mezrich about the real-life heist of moon rocks. Yes, moon rocks.

So, the idea of crazy heist schemes isn't just limited to the imaginations of Hollywood's talent screenwriters. No, it seems that anyone who has seen a heist film thinks that they have what it takes to outsmart the law and cash in their brass ring. As the interstitials with the real criminals imply, it's not as easy as it seems on the big screen.

I was really impressed with the performances from the largely unknown or underappreciated cast. The four young men each bring a fully-realized personality to the crew and they tend to eschew traditional stereotypes to keep you guessing until the end. The actors really took on their alter egos and it gave the film a level of authenticity that other films lack with the polished stars.

At the end of the day, we can't change who we are. We crave heist films and American Animals will fit the bill quite nicely. Also, it gives the audience a bit of perspective that their Hollywood brethren tend to gloss over with its interstitials with the real thieves.

American Animals is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.