The trailer for “American Animals,” a true-crime film based on the 2004 book heist at Transylvania University, was released Wednesday and is already adding to the buzz the film generated at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Cinema Blend complimented the trailer for its aesthetic, tension and unique take on college-based movies.
“True crime is compelling because it can shine a light on the horrors and inequities of the world around us, frighten us or just flat out flabbergast us with how something so ridiculous could have actually happened,” Nick Evans wrote. “’American Animals’ looks like it falls into the latter category. The new trailer for the film looks sexy and dangerous and far stranger than fiction.”
The trailer asserts that “This is not based on a true story” .... “This happened.”
It happened Dec. 17, 2004, when Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Eric Borsuk and Charles Allen II visited the Special Collections Library at Transylvania University in disguise, under the guise of viewing some of the library’s most valuable items, including a first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”
Once in the room, the men attacked librarian Betty Jean Gooch with a taser-like weapon, bound her hands and feet and blindfolded her. The men took the Darwin book, sketches by John James Audubon and other materials they then tried to sell at Christie’s auction house in New York City.
That is where, as they say, the jig was up.
Christie’s became suspicious, the four men were arrested in February 2005, and each was sentenced to seven years in prison.
The story has already been relayed in a book by Allen, “Mr. Pink,” written under the name Chas Allen, and a 2007 Vanity Fair article by John Falk that called the story, “one part ‘Ocean’s 11,’ one part ‘Harold & Kumar.’”
The movie that has resulted is the first drama from British documentarian Bart Layton, who also penned the screenplay. It stars Evan Peters (Quicksilver from the “X-Men” series) as Lipka, Barry Keoghan (last seen in “Dunkirk”) as Reinhard, Blake Jenner (Ryder Lynn in “Glee”) as Allen, and Jared Abrahamson (“Travelers” and “Fear the Walking Dead”) as Borsuk. Reviews of the film also say they men appear as themselves.
Variety critic Guy Lodge wrote that “American Animals” is, “a riveting college-boy crime caper that speeds along on pure movie-movie adrenaline, before U-turning into a sobering reflection on young male privilege and entitlement.”
The review compared the documentary-ish filmmaking style to “I, Tonya,” the Oscar-winning drama about infamous figure skater Tonya Harding.
The film was shot in the Charlotte, N.C. area with Davidson College standing in for Transy and is slated for June 1 release — though as an indie release, we would say pencil that on your calendar in the Lexington area.
It is being distributed by The Orchard, distributor of indie hits such as “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” and MoviePass Ventures, an arm of the MoviePass movie ticket subscription service. Cinema Blend posited that having MoviePass on board may bode well for “American Animals,” as it will likely promote the film to its customers who are more likely to see independent films.
Rich Copley, @copiousnotes