American Animals – review

It is a crime and drama film that based on a true story that took place in between 2003 to 2005 where four college students decided to rob a library for money, which notoriously known as ‘The Transy Book Heist”. This got me interested in their perspectives in regard to the crime. Is that it? Just the money? Or something more than that?

Amecian aminals.jpg

The director who is also the writer of the film, Bart Layton, deserves props for making this film alive. One can see he puts a lot of work into investigations to present one of the most significant art robberies in Lexington town that happened on December 17, 2004. Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters are both excellent among all others in drawing people attention to watch the unfolding story. The film intercut with the reflections of the real protagonists between the documentary and drama storytelling makes it intriguing to the viewer.

“Growing up, I had.. a desire for some kind of life-altering experience.”

The movie starts out by having Spencer Reinhard (played by Barry Kepohan) spoke of his younger philosophical thoughts that affected by some well-known historical artists who suffered tragedies in their lifetime. “Growing up, I had.. a desire for some kind of life-altering experience.” He says during the interview. This sense of feeling is unsurprisingly among most of the teenagers nowadays in society. The amounts of study with zero insight into how the knowledge they learnt would benefit themselves and society as a whole render many youngsters to question their own value and existence. All they would know is to get a better or higher certification so that one day a favourable position would be secured. This results from the idea of defying or achieving something exceptional in order to feel one’s existence in Spencer’s mind. Arguably it is understandable but also unjustifiable to the wrong deed that he, among the others as a gang would carry out later on.


A tour visit to the Transylvania library, Spencer set his eyes on some of the rarest collections in the Rare book room. A book that sat in the middle of the room was Birds of America by John James Audubon, which estimated of 8 to 12 million dollars. When Spencer had to leave the room, he glanced at the flamingo painting that was in a transparent glass. The American flamingo painting became a representation of Spencer’s yearning as if the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. Following the scenes, Spencer told Warren Lipka (played by Evan Peters) about the rare collection’s room and the value of the books. A burglary idea like a seed planted in their head.

The American flamingo from Audubon


Spencer and Warren both knew that it would take an extraordinary effort to steal four double-sized folios that behind the glass case. The exorbitant amounts of money and the audacious idea gave two comrades a meaning for the first time in their lives. It was not long until they started planning a heist. They would watch movies like Ocean’s Eleven or Snatch for inspiration. At that point in time, the viewer could definitely feel the deeply bounded relationship was formed between them despite they were already best friends to each other since their childhood.

They then travelled to NewYork for a meet up after they sent out an anonymous letter to connect the potential fence. Although it turned out they had to travel to Netherland for the actual buyer, going to NewYork was the special moments for both of them. Leaving their familiar environment and drove up to the city capital where the lifestyle and people values differed from their hometown, it widened their perspectives and grew their guts to take risks. After the trip to Amsterdam, they realised the need of extra helpers for the operation so they invited Eric Borsuk (played by Jared Abrahamson) and Charles ‘Chas’ Thomas Allen II (played by Blake Jenner) to join the gang.



The moral principle soon struck on them when they had to figure it out how and who should deal with the librarian, Betty Jean Gooch (played by Ann Dowd). The gang tacitly accepted the use of a stun gun proposal, well knowing that someone else’s life could be in danger.


They distinctly developed three phases for the robbery.

Phase 1 would begin with all four get into a vehicle along with their disguises as old men.

Phase 2 was when everyone was in their positions. Spencer would be on the lookout, Warren would bring Gooch down hard and fast, so other two could wrap the Audubons in bedsheets and put any smaller books in backpacks. They would then escape from the scene by the elevator and get out from a fire exit.

The last phase was the escape. After they got it away by switching vehicles, they would have to get the books appraised at Christie’s in NewYork almost immediately since the stolen books would be entered into national art-theft databases as soon as it alerted to the FBI.

“Don’t you wanna find out what happens next?”

This question pondered their heads subsequently followed the failure of the first attempt. They struggled to face the consequences that if the operation went south, what would happen to their family or people who were counted on them. The fail mission on that day acted as a contemplative reflection to these four young men. Spencer and Warren had come so far and simply they both wanted to know what could happen after. The question motivated them to stick with the plan, in which, they would rob again on the next day.



The heist turned out to be a turmoil as they screwed up by the wrong escape instruction in their exit route. They dropped the books harshly and ran outside toward to the runaway vehicle when another librarian chased after them. Meanwhile, Ms. Gooch was found being hogtied in the Rare Book Room. On the run, they thought they had got nearly nothing until they knew the books and manuscripts wedged in their backpacks where they picked up as they left the crime scene were worth approximately three-quarters of a million dollars.

It was the appraisal stage of their plans exposed their identities altogether. From contacting Christie’s for the appointment to physically meeting the staff members in Christie’s, there were two fatal mistakes they had made, which led them to serve seven identical years in federal prison. The stolen rare books and manuscripts remained intact and sent back to the library afterward.

Was it really worth it?

The price that they were willing to pay in exchange for their own desire, even though they knew it would mean to harm other people, was huge and the action was selfish and unacceptable. They had got what they deserved, being locked up in the cells for years. It was the idea, the fantasy, the formation of friendships, and the excitement made them go down a journey of no return. Was it really worth it? Did the structure of the society need to take part of the blame as well?

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