Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. United Kingdom/USA, 2018. Film4, New Amsterdam Film Company, RAW. Screenplay by Bart Layton. Cinematography by Ole Bratt Birkeland. Produced by Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Derrin Schlesinger, Mary Jane Skalski. Music by Anne Nikitin. Production Design by Scott Dougan. Costume Design by Jenny Eagan. Film Editing by Nick Fenton, Chris Gill, Julian Hart. Independent Spirit Awards 2018.
An attempt to make a heist movie unlike any you’ve seen before results in a strained effort that, while not boring, fails in its goal to be special. Director Bart Layton has made the dubious choice of having the real people upon whom this true story is based participate on camera, even interacting a bit with the action that involves a group of Kentucky university students who try to pull off a robbery that fails miserably. Barry Keoghan plays a student whose good sense of academic discipline is somewhat dissipated by the more manic energy of his best friend, played by Evan Peters. The two of them hatch a plan to overthrow the rigours of authority when Keoghan is given a tour of the special collection at Transylvania University’s library and sees their displays of some the rarest books in the world are stored, among them priceless editions of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America and Darwin’s Origin of Species. Bringing two more friends into the operation, both of whose real-life counterparts also appear on screen, they come up with a plan to break into the library, drug the librarian (played by Ann Dowd) and snatch up the treasures, setting up some underworld buyers who will help them sell their loot after they recover it. Pretty much everything goes wrong from the get-go, but thanks to their allusions to Reservoir Dogs and their obsession with what they think are youthful high-jinks, they go through with the robbery anyway. There’s plenty to be said about these characters, like the ease with which they survive these bad decisions or the fact that they are happy to exploit their own foolishness on the big screen, but the movie isn’t concerned with the irony that these people become movie stars by telling us the bad things they’ve done. There’s actually nothing valuable added to the movie by having the real people appear on screen, while the actors playing them are all charismatic and interesting enough to make it worth watching even if none of it is anything new.