By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, June 8, at the AMC Kabuki 8 and the Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco.
Writer-director Bart Layton follows up his 2012 debut The Imposter, a documentary with dramatic tendencies about an older man pretending to be a troubled teen, with the fact-based American Animals, a drama with documentary tendencies about troubled teens pretending to be older men.
Barry Keoghan stars as soft-spoken but dissatisfied art school student Spencer Reinhard, while Evan Peters plays Spencer’s fantasist best friend and bad influence, Warren Lipka. Although they did not have criminal records or experience, Spencer and Warren and a couple associates attempted a dangerous and foolhardy heist at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in December 2004, attempting to rob the Rare Book Room of rare prints by Darwin and Audubon.
Rather than a straightforward biopic, Layton intercuts talking-head interviews of the actual people involved into (sometimes contradictory) recreations of the events, and even allows Lipka and Reinhard to interact with the actors. These sort of self-aware trappings usually work on me like catnip, but Layton’s concept of meta-cinema feels a little too basic.