American Animals is funny, fast and tongue-chewingly tense – and more

It’s difficult to describe the second film by writer/director Bart (The Imposter) Layton without making it sound a) like a lot of other films, or b) shit. It’s Man On Wire meets Fight ClubOcean’s Eleven via American Honey; Tarantino with teens. See?

A heist flick based on a true story, the film follows students Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters and accomplices as they plan, prep and mount a daring (not to mention extraordinarily dim-witted) robbery on their university library. The prize? Some priceless books on evolution by Charles Darwin and John James Audobon. The chance of getting away with it? Practically zero.

As a thriller, it’s funny, fast and tongue-chewingly tense. The performances are excellent, with the presence of Ann (Aunt Lydia) Dowd a gold-standard guarantee of quality. The soundtrack, from Elvis to Rodriguez, is your new please-everyone Spotify playlist. And the cinematography is both striking and thought-provoking. Witness the moment when, on the drive to the robbery, the image flips upside down, like the boys’ lives are about to. But Layton has an ace up his sleeve even if the characters don’t.

Throughout the film, he cuts away to interviews with the real-life perpetrators, their parents and victims. Material this strong would probably have worked as straight-ahead fiction, but these documentary elements add pathos and perspective to the rapidly unraveling action, elevating the film from entertainment to a meditation on truth and trust. If that all sounds a bit heavy, fear not. For the most part, you’ll be digging your nails into the arm-rest so hard you won’t notice.

American Animals is in cinemas October 25