Director: Bart Layton
Writer: Bart Layton
Cinematographer: Ole Bratt Birkeland
Producer: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, and Mary Jane Skalski
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
The story makes national headlines and we know there’s only moments before the police catch on. Still they take the books to a collector in New York, where we can see the assessor immediately knows who they are and what they’re selling. She explains that they can’t provide an estimate for a few days. And while Warren and Spencer try to remain calm, they can’t help but essentially beg that they pay whatever the books are worth.
The four are busted moments later, told in a beautiful and haunting montage; perfectly capturing the essence of inevitability with each character distraught by the certainty of waiting for the police, until they finally arrive. In the end, each character offers their closing thoughts on the situation; on whether or not Warren ever actually met up with hoodlums in Amsterdam, or if he even went there at all. They were sentenced and served extended prison times, released around 2008. Chas has become a personal trainer in Los Angeles, while Eric pursues writing in Los Angeles, having penned a version of their story; taking a sharp turn from his criminal justice path (though I’m unsure whether he was involved in this film’s development). Coincidentally, Warren has re-enrolled in college to study filmmaking, making you wonder how far he’ll get with his con artistry. Spencer remains in his small town, making a living as an artist who now focuses on paintings of birds.
There’s something about the fact that three of the four have decided to pursue the arts, taking me back to my initial thoughts on the film’s title. Throughout the story we hear how each character was hoping for something more in life; that no matter the privilege they had (whether success, education, or athleticism), there was something missing.
What’s most fascinating is that for all their knowledge, planning, and consumption of heist movies, they were unable to anticipate even the smallest obstacles. How come they never checked the basement? Or if they checked it, did they not notice the possibility of a locked gate? How did they expect to get an estimate for the art from a legitimate source, knowing that the heist would make the news? And for that matter, if Warren was lying about the Amsterdam hoodlums, why did he think it was a good idea to get an estimate from them; or was this just another element of Googling an answer? Why was there a fight about Spencer’s voicemail giving them away rather than that the dealers would inevitably call the police? I can’t help thinking there was a desire to get caught (perhaps subconsciously); to avoid thinking about the obvious or taking the serious questions all that seriously as it would make the situation all the more real.
Like them, I too felt something was missing in life during college; convinced that a traditional life trajectory would be unfulfilling. The idealism acquired when learning about such thinkers as Marx, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Camus and others is quickly diluted in the real world; as great and meaningful as it is to pursue a creative path, doing so a risk often reserved for privileged people; those who don’t know what it’s like to face constant and seemingly endless failure and rejection, job insecurity, and devastating hours. Most are convinced that they’re the exceptions and wunderkinds; who’ll somehow hit the fast track and fly by others who’ve been working their crafts for years and years.
American Animals embodies this idea. It’s about four kids who, although en route to respectable and possibly successful careers, wanted to get there faster. They didn’t know what they didn’t know; that beyond their relatively perfect lives, Murphy’s Law operates at full force, and it’s only through experience that you’re able to deal with those problems. They were little more than animals, straying just a bit further from the nest, confident that they could achieve greatness and riches without effort. To think three of them have gone onto to pursue the arts makes you wonder how they’ll handle those challenges; or if they’ll discover the sad and often unspoken American truth - that the vast majority fail in their artistic pursuits, destined to live humble and seemingly ordinary lives that they initially all resented. Then again, a great movie was created about their story which will live on forever, so maybe they did achieve something.
BELOW: Youthful idealism at its worst
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