Part documentary, part thrilling narrative feature, Bart Layton’s cautionary tale takes a real life event and uses the event’s actual players to explain and dramatically recreate a terribly stupid crime.

When college students Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) and Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) decide to spice up their lives by committing a little heist, they have no idea what they are really doing. Their bright idea is to steal rare and priceless books from the university library and fence them. It’s a simple plan but not one to be carried out by criminals-in-training. And bringing in a couple other clueless students (including a jock played well by Blake Jenner) doesn’t help. As things go from bad to worse to worser, these youngsters find their future slipping farther and farther out of reach.

“American Animals” relies on a hybrid approach by using documentary style interviews with the real perpetrators (Lipka, Reinhard, Allen, and Borsuk) to tell the story of a botched robbery from four different points of view. Ultimately, we know the theft was a failure and the foursome were caught and prosecuted, but what really happened? Well, that depends on who is on camera. It’s a fascinating followup for filmmaker Layton, whose last film was the fantastic “The Imposter.”

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