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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

When something is worth $12 million, you don't just stare at it.

Perhaps this was what went through the minds of four boys from Lexington, Kentucky, before they planned their life-altering heist.

It's 2004, and Spencer Reinhard is in college trying make something of his mundane life, just as the artists he studies had. One day, Spencer walks through a secured section of the library and observes a book filled with highly valued paintings. His wheels start turning. If only I could get my hands on those paintings, he thinks to himself. If only.

But if only … what? Would taking them be an antidote to his rote, boring college life? Would having them make everything better? Would his life have more meaning and purpose?

As the days become weeks, he begins forming a full-fledged plan to rob the library with the help of three other college students: his troublesome friend, Warren Lipka; accounting nerd Eric Borsuk; and a jock by the name of Chas Allen. Together, these four young men set out to perform a task that each believes could give them a sense of elusive fulfilment. Moreover, it could make them wealthy beyond measure … if they succeed.

Positive Elements

American Animals fluctuates between a documentary and a more standard "based on a true story" film: Each of the men in real life is interviewed, and each expresses the deepest of remorse for his actions. It is evident that the men have since thought through what they did and are sorry for those they hurt. They recognize that what they thought would provide thrill and adventure only further confused the questions of purpose that swirled about their minds. Even as they were planning the heist, each character occasionally had second, wiser thoughts, and those sometimes helped the others to think of making more morally sound choices—though this, obviously, doesn't always happen.

At one point, Spencer says that he would like to step away from the entire plot because he doesn't want to hurt his family. In addition, each of the boys is unsettled and unnerved by the thought of harming a woman. Moreover, when the characters eventually do set the plot in motion, the film stresses that these terrible, unwise actions come with serious consequences. There is a sense of redemption and understanding that permeates the film as each man is given the platform to discuss his actions.

Spiritual Content

Each of the young men feels that he is missing something. They speak candidly about wanting more and not understanding the voids they all feel.

Sexual Content

Warren makes out with a random woman at a bar. We see a close up of a woman's cleavage. Warren is seen in the bathtub, but nothing critical is shown. Women stand in lingerie in a window. Warren jokingly asks Spencer to kiss him. Men go shirtless at a fraternity party and Spencer is forced to drink beer from a bong that is positioned near a man's (covered) genitals.

Violent Content

The collection of art that the men seek to steal is filled with paintings of birds eating and killing other animals, and blood is seen.

In frustration, Chas pulls a gun on the other three guys and threatens them. A man gets hit by a car. Someone yells, "One day, you'll be dead," and, "You've shot us all in the head." A man gets punched in the face and others attempt to start a fist fight. A woman is zapped with a Taser and bound with zip ties. A student watches a YouTube video of someone licking a Taser. Someone mentions a woman's dead husband and issues a death threat. Warren mentions running over a group of people to "put them out of their misery" and yells at his father for crying.

Crude or Profane Language

God's and Jesus' name are misused twice. The f-word is repeated more than 100 times. Other profanities unclude the s-word, "b--ch" and "a--hole." Someone is called "retarded."

Drug and Alcohol Content

People drink to excess, downing shots, as well as consuming beer, hard liquor and wine. Characters smoke too.

Other Negative Elements

As the documented excerpts play out, each of the men mentions that they remember details differently; each is unsure of whom to believe.They also betray the faith shown to them by their friends and families. And, obviously, the movie itself is predicated on theft and other illegal activity.

Warren's parents get into a fight and later get divorced. When Warren meets with the athletic director at his university, the director tells him to think about his actions, as he is only attending thanks to to an academic scholarship. Warren tells him that he never wanted the scholarship: His parents forced him into athletics, nothing he particulary enjoyed or wanted to do.

Besides the main stunt, two men steal from a store. Another guy also steals, hoping he'll be caught. A librarian wets herself after being tied up. Someone vomits. Another discusses a fake ID.


In a conversation between Warren and Spencer, Spencer asks, "Do you ever feel like you're waiting for something to happen, but you don't know what it is?" Something, Spencer says, that could "make your life special?" Warren later tells Spencer that Spencer must make his own decisions, that he cannot wait around for others to do so for him. According to Warren, Spencer's been given a "red-pill, blue-pill moment." Now the only question is, what will he do with it?

This statement, a reference to The Matrix, is poignant and pivotal for Spencer. It is what sends him over the edge. Each of these young men were waiting for something. Waiting for excitement, waiting for change, waiting … waiting … waiting.

Then one day, they were sick of waiting and decided to do something about it. And after seven-plus years of prison time, each man now sees the error of his ways.

This film is, at its core, a cautionary tale—a well-crafted and compelling one at that. The director, zigzagging between real-life interviews and fictional recreations, made the film feel more urgent, more real than it otherwise would've. The result? A strong emotional presence and an emphasis on the sad impact of what these men did.

But whatever strengths the movie has, it doesn't mitigate the content it wallows in to get there. American Animals can be savage at times, loaded with harsh language and some sexual content. While this film does offer a better message than you might expect and may help some viewers walk in another man's shoes, it's certainly not family friendly. In fact, some who walk into the theater may wish—like the men we meet here—that they had walked the other way.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes



Readability Age Range





Evan Peters as Warren Lipka; Barry Keoghan as Spencer Reinhard; Blake Jenner as Chas Allen; Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk; Ann Dowd as the Librarian


Bart Layton ( )


The Orchard/MoviePass



Record Label



In Theaters

June 1, 2018

On Video

August 28, 2018

Year Published



Kristin Smith

Content Caution

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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