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“American Animals” has been a slow train running for me. I can still remember when my now-wife told me that B.J. Gooch got beat up by some idiots trying to rob a book or two from her. I was stunned, as who would want to beat up Gooch? She was the nice librarian who carefully made sure that the English and deep research students weren’t too rough with the antique books. Careful gloves and other measures being the order of her day, as to now trash the veritable vault of rich literature hidden in our school’s tiny library. Hell, a year prior to the book theft, I had been yelled at for handling the soon-to-be stolen books too roughly.

Then, the arrests came. A few years later, the book and now the film. Transylvania University always seemed embarrassed by this case attracting attention to its tiny private Liberal Arts school. So, they denied a lot of the film’s requests. The movie was shot in North Carolina in a library much larger than the original location. What always stuck me as funny was that these four idiots passed a slew of stuff they could’ve stole easily. Things that would not have attracted attention.

George H.W. Bush donated his personal chair to the school. There were a collection of first editions from the 30s and 40s that wouldn’t attract that much attention. But, these four knuckleheads had to go after 200 year old books. Watching Gooch relive what happened to her in the film and seeing Ann Dowd portray was so bizarre. I had been graduated for almost a year by the time this event happened, but I knew tons of people involved or near the incident.

Working late-nights at a video research company, I had a lot of time to check newscasts and try to piece together what happened. When these four idiots tried to take the books to auction, they were busted. That’s when I recognized two of the four guys’ names. Hell, I thought one got kicked out of school. They were young wannabe frat types that kinda floated between groups. When I did things at the Kentucky Theater, I’d see the guy that Barry Keoghan played hanging around.

For years afterwards, I’d hear stories about these guys but very few people knew them. The ones that did either didn’t like them or felt bad for them. Now, they’re on Megyn Kelly’s show advocating for prison reform and basking their bout with fame. In a way, this film is like have a college reunion with things you’re being forced to remember and with people that need name tags. As someone with the most bizarre ties to the original case/location/random idiot; I applaud Bart Layton for getting so much right.

As a Transy alumni, I wish the school would play nice with Layton and company. There’s still time to visit the original crime scene and show just how insane this case was in reality. The insanity of a bunch goofy do-nothing kids playing robbery dress-up needs to sink in for a lot of people. The events of American Animals happened where privilege meets the inability to see a future. Great work all around and it makes me want to head back to Transy’s library again.


  • 1 hr and 56 mins
  • R
  • The Orchard/MoviePass


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