Friday is the day Lexington finally gets to see "American Animals," the new movie about the 2004 theft of rare books worth millions of dollars from the special collection library at Transylvania University.
It's a story that is well known in Lexington: The audacious robbery took place in broad daylight, just a week before Christmas. The perpetrators, a Transylvania University student and three University of Kentucky students, all from Lexington, were apprehended a few months later after they tried to have the items they got away with appraised at the iconic Christie's Auction House in New York City.
The story was widely covered in Lexington media and even got some national media attention, including a well-known article in Vanity Fair magazine that called the crime "one part 'Oceans 11,' one part 'Harold & Kumar.'"
So, here are a few things to know about the movie:
It wasn't filmed here. The movie was actually shot in North Carolina in and around the campus of Davidson College, near Charlotte.
"I think it would have been inappropriate to make the film at Transy," director Bart Layton said, adding, "there isn't the same kind of production base in Kentucky that there is in North Carolina. We found Davidson College, which was willing to let us run amok on their campus, and there were a lot of similar neighborhoods to the ones I've seen in Lexington."
The robbers are in it, as well as the librarian. Layton, who's been a documentary filmmaker up until now, filmed interview segments with each of the perpetrators — Spencer Reinhard, Warren Lipka, Eric Borsuk and Charles "Chas" Allen — that are peppered in with the overall dramatic film. Layton used this technique to ground the somewhat unbelievable story and in pursuit of his goal of exploring why the four relatively privileged young men committed such a crime, he said.
"They were reticent at first," Layton said. "It was a subject that had obviously been devastating to their families. ... I don't think they were really in a hurry to bring the whole thing back up. But I think they also understood that I had a vision for how it would be done and that there was an honesty to it and it wasn't going to be glamorized."
Allen says he and his cohorts communicated with Layton and his team for five years before the movie started shooting.
Librarian BJ Gooch, who was physically attacked during the robbery and still works in the same job today, also appears in the film and told the Herald-Leader she thinks the movie is very good and was really happy to be played in the movie by Emmy Award winner Ann Dowd, best known for her role in Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale."
Some fun things to look for: Remember those silly Kentucky license plates with the smiling sunshine — aka Mr. Smiley — on them? Someone connected with the movie did, because those were what we had on our cars in 2004, and those are what Allen, played by Blake Jenner, can be seen moving around from car to car in classic heist movie fashion.
Also, some local media outlets get a little big screen time, including WKYT's Miranda Combs, whose archival coverage of the robbery is seen in the movie.
So how's the movie doing? "American Animals" premiered to wide acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and at this point, it is safe to call it critically acclaimed.
Variety called it, "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 Houston Chronicle's Cary Darling says it's, "a film that takes a mild curiosity from a long-ago news cycle and elevates it into something singularly fascinating."
Not everyone was impressed. The New York Times' A.O. Scott said the film, "can’t quite decide what it wants to be: a slick, speedy caper; a goofball comedy; or a commentary on the state of the American soul. It’s none of those — a tame and toothless creature that is neither fish nor fowl." Like we said, The New York Times. (By the way, several critics have noted to their readers or viewers that Transylvania University is indeed a real university.)
On the trend-setting film site, Rotten Tomatoes, "American Animals" has an 86 percent "fresh" rating from critics and a 91 percent rating from audiences.
Financially, returns are more modest. Since opening in major markets June 1, it has made just $754,491, according to Box Office Mojo. That is from showing on just 72 screens and a limited number of markets nationwide. By comparison, "Oceans 8" played on 4,145 theaters last weekend. "American Animals" opens wider, including Lexington, this weekend.
Now, it's time for folk who live where this happened to see the movie and decide what they think.