Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Evan Peters Heist Hidden Gem You Can Stream On Hulu

Over the last decade or so, actor Evan Peters' star has risen like a delicious, yeasty loaf of bread. (We're workshopping new similes here; we're done using "meteoric" to describe such a rise because meteors fall, people.) For six or seven years beginning around 2004, Peters appeared mostly on the fringes, with bit parts in underseen movies and television series — but that all changed with his supporting role in the first season of the FX anthology series American Horror Story (retroactively dubbed Murder House), which he quite effortlessly stole from such heavy hitters as Dylan McDermott and Jessica Lange.

Peters would go on to appear in seven additional seasons (and counting) of AHS, which gave him the opportunity to play a wide array of very different characters, thereby demonstrating his impressive range: His deranged turn as serial killer James Patrick Marsh in Hotel, the series' fifth season, was particularly attention-grabbing. But things really started to take off for Peters when he was cast as Peter Maximoff, also known as the superhero Quicksilver, in 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past, a role he would reprise in three additional films (including a cameo in Deadpool 2) before Fox Studios was absorbed by Disney, which effectively put an end to the series.

Peters has re-entered the public eye in a big way of late by returning to his Quicksilver role — sort of — in the smash-hit Disney+ Marvel Cinematic Universe series WandaVision. But he's not all big-budget blockbusters and Marvel craziness these days. He's still down to take on smaller projects, and as recently as 2018, Peters starred in a Sundance darling black comedy that really deserved more attention. It's called American Animals, and if you're a Hulu subscriber, you can and should fire it up tonight.

What is American Animals about?

American Animals tells the tale of four college-age buddies: Warren Lipka (Peters), Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk), Chas Allen (Blake Jenner, Glee), and Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson, Ramy), who become embroiled in a bizarre heist plot. During a trip to Transylvania University (the one in Lexington, Kentucky, not the one Dracula attended), Spencer, seeking inspiration, instead finds the seeds of the plot when he discovers that the University houses an impressive collection of one-of-a-kind, rare books which are kept under the watchful eye of just one librarian. Spencer floats his plan to Warren, who enthusiastically recruits the other two after taking a meeting with black market buyers in Amsterdam, which convinces him that they potentially have a fortune to gain. 

Of course, their plan doesn't exactly go off without a hitch. Much of the fun of American Animals comes in watching these people play off of each other: The gang are an absolute study in contrasting personalities. Spencer is a mild-mannered art student whose heist plan begins as a half-hearted joke, Warren is a hothead who could be described as impulsive if not unhinged, Chas is an uber-confident young entrepreneur, and Eric is a high-strung type who has his sights set on becoming an FBI agent. These four probably shouldn't even be in a study group together, let alone a criminal gang, and the four actors all acquit themselves swimmingly.

The flick was written and directed by British filmmaker Bart Layton, whose only previous credit was the fascinating 2012 documentary The Impostor. That film told the true story of French con man Frédéric Bourdin, whose specialty was impersonating long-lost missing children in order to scam their families — and, believe it or not, American Animals also has documentary elements, because the bizarre events it depicts really happened. According to Vanity Fair, the perpetrators of the real-life "Transy Book Heist" were all arrested, tried, and sentenced to seven-year prison terms, which they began serving in 2006.

American Animals is based on a true story, and the real people it depicts are in the movie

Not only did the real Reinhard, Lipka, Allen, and Borsuk all take part in the making of the movie, they all appear in the movie, and the way in which they're utilized is utterly fascinating. In between the scripted sequences, the four appear in interviews, offering sometimes fuzzy but more or less uniform recollections of the 18 months of planning that went into their heist, how the crime went down, and its aftermath. Their appearances bring home in startling fashion the fact that the story the audience is watching unfold is true — but Layton didn't stop there. He also had the four appear in the scripted sequences, alongside the actors portraying them, as sort of apparitions — watching the actions of their younger selves helplessly, knowing that it would all go wrong, all of them unable to change anything and all of them affected by profound regret. Their mark, librarian Betty Jean Gooch, also appears in the movie. (She's portrayed in the scripted scenes by Ann Dowd of Hereditary and The Handmaid's Tale fame).

It's a dramatic, unprecedented storytelling technique, and one that Layton deserves mountains of credit for pulling off so effectively. In an interview with Little White Lies, Layton expounded on his thought process behind the technique. "I read about the story and thought it was amazing. By the time I made contact with the real guys, they were in prison, and we began this sort of pen pal relationship," he remembered. "It was how they talked about their motivations and who they were that made me think this was a story that was really worth telling. It's about something which felt more relevant now than it was at the time. And because their voices were so honest and unusual, I was keen to find a way to include them in the movie."

Come for the black comedy, stay for the killer soundtrack

As if you need one more reason to check out American Animals, we would be remiss not to point out that the film features one of the more stellar soundtracks this side of Guardians of the Galaxy. Selections by the likes of the Doors, KISS guitarist Ace Frehley, the Ramones, and Leonard Cohen all make appearances — but if you happen to be looking for a comprehensive introduction to the very best of '90s rap music, you should really look no further.

Available on major streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, the soundtrack includes the legendary likes of KRS-One ("Sound of Da Police"), Ice Cube ("It Was a Good Day"), Mobb Deep ("Shook Ones Part II"), Pete Rock and CL Smooth ("They Reminisce Over You"), Rakim ("When I B On tha Mic"), the Pharcyde ("Runnin'"), Nas ("NY State of Mind"), and Blackstar ("Definition"). The tunes are deployed expertly throughout the film, and the rap selections in particular also help to anchor it to its time period. (The flick takes place in 2003 and 2004.)

American Animals is a criminally overlooked film, but it doesn't have to be overlooked by you, because now you know. Check it out tonight, and we promise you'll thank us tomorrow.