It’s odd that one of the most notorious heists in American history should involve something as prosaic as a book about birds, but here we are. American Animals tells the story of four young men in suburban Pennsylvania who are apathetic about their lives and uncertain about their future and so decide to spice things up and add some adventure to their existence.
To do so they decide to steal an incredibly rare book from the collection of nearby Transylvania University. They’re not exactly criminal masterminds, though, and so turn to their knowledge of heist movies to help fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Executing the plan is filled with luck both good and bad, but nothing is going to deter this group of would-be thieves from adding some meaning to their bland, uneventful lives.
The first poster, released while the film was still at Sundance, looks like one piece of paper has been torn in half and laid over another. The bottom half has a photo of four guys in suits, a couple of them carrying bags, walking toward the camera. It looks like any other crime action drama. But then a ripped piece of paper is laid over the top that replaces their heads with masks of various animals, which makes literal the title that appears just above the image. So clearly it’s trying to convey something fresh and possibly disturbing to the audience as opposed to yet another mildly entertaining heist film.
Two more posters take slightly different approaches while using similar elements. On both there’s a group of faceless individuals wearing trench coats and carrying guns walking toward the camera and on both there’s a drawing of a pelican, hinting at the aviary nature of the book that’s being stolen by these thieves. Aside from some different design choices, the main difference is in the copy. One reads “The perfect heist is a work of fiction” while the other features “You don’t know where the line is until you cross it.”
Spencer is bored and feeling like he’s on the edge of something monumental in the trailer, which opens by showing us a mix of craziness and tedium. Warren wants to recruit him into some sort of scheme but isn’t forthcoming with the details. It turns out, a group of friends wants to steal a priceless book from a library, presumably to fence it but also just for the adventure. Everyone just wants to feel something, some kind of rush, and this is a way to do that.
What’s being sold here is kind of an absurd action comedy. The title cards make it clear that the events depicted actually happened, but the overly dramatic closing of car doors and other small moments show plenty of liberties have been taken with the story as well. It looks mildly insane but also gripping and compelling, making it easy to see what the festival buzz was all about.
There’s a bit less focus on Spencer in the later “online exclusive” trailer. The same basic story is sold here, though, one about a group of guys who are so uninterested with the current trajectory of their lives that they decide stealing a rare book is the only way to feel something. We see the same outlines of the planning and preparation for the heist, though this one is more about the dynamics between the group than the kind of ridiculous lengths they go to in advance of the theft.
Online and Social
There isn’t much happening on the movie’s official website, just a “Synopsis,” a “Videos” section with the trailers and a featurette as well as plenty of prompts to buy tickets. There are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles on the front page.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Some online ads might have been run but I haven’t seen any TV spots or other paid efforts.
Media and Publicity
The movie was one that received a good amount of conversation and buzz when it screened at the Sundance Film Festival. That only got more intense when it was acquired by a partnership of The Orchard and MoviePass, the latter making its first purchase after launching a new division for just that purpose. After that it was also screened at the SXSW Film Festival. Because of the ups-and-downs MoviePass has had over the last few months it was natural that features like this would pop up examining the company’s financial stake in the movie and what its fortunes meant for the fate of the movie.
There were a few features about the real life guys who inspired the story and who were part of the publicity tour, but nothing that seemed to amount to a particularly notable part of the overall push.
I just kind of wish the publicity push had the same vigor and sizzle as the trailers, which give off a decent vibe of energy. There’s some good material that’s on display in those trailers, which sell an unconventional caper flick, though one that is as implausible as they come. That the same energy wasn’t carried over throughout the campaign and expanded into other media is disappointing.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.