Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Taipei Film Festival.
American Animals (2018) tells the story of four White college kids in Kentucky who, depressed by the fact that they aren’t as special as they were led to believe throughout their childhood, decide to make their lives special by doing something special: stealing rare books from the Transylvania University library that total over ten million dollars in worth. The first third introduces us to the protagonists and follows the conception and planning of the heist; the middle third details the execution; and the last third presents the fallout—obviously, they were caught. Equally obvious, Odie Henderson points out, is the fact that, lacking justifiable motivation, sociopolitical import, the satisfaction of a comprehensive plan as Soderbergh might’ve provided, or even a successful heist, the film boils down to a group of entitled young men who want a “transformative experience” but aren’t willing to earn it—to paraphrase librarian Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd in the narrative, herself in an interview), who is tasered, bound, and gagged in the course of the heist. The documentary interviews (some of which feature actor stand-ins) and tricks-of-memory elements, where things in the re-creation change mid-scene when the narrator changes, are interesting but mostly gimmicky, and the acting, not too shabby in the first two thirds, degenerates into lots and lots of shouting in the bottom third of the film, so we’re left with one burning question: Why choose to tell this story?