However much of an upstanding citizen you believe yourself to be, you’ve no probably dabbled in some five-fingered discounts in your time. And yes, the pick ‘n’ mix does count. There’s nothing like that high, no doubt heightened by that sugar rush, where you walk away thinking that you’ve just stuck it to the man and are clearly invincible. Unless you got caught of course.
With British director Bart Layton’s latest feature, he presents a real life heist committed by four young Americans, who are more attracted by the thrill of it all rather than the lucrative loot itself.
Whilst studying art at Transylvania University – which is a real place, apparently – Spencer (Barry Keoghan) comes across the library, where they have a rare books collection. He’s transfixed, particularly by John James Audubon’s book The Birds of America, which is absurdly valuable.
Somehow, he gets it into his head that it would be really cool to steal it, and other rare books, and ropes in friend Warren (Evan Peters) to help out.
After much planning, they decide that it’s bigger than a two-man job, and so recruit a further two members – Chas (Blake Jenner) and Erik (Jared Abrahamson) – to their team.
The wheels of motion begin to turn, watching classic heist flicks for tips and surveying the library and its staff like seasoned pros. But when push comes to shove, can they actually go through with it?
Moving on from his documentary debut, 2012’s acclaimed The Imposter, Layton cleverly mixes drama with footage from the actual real-life protagonists themselves. This hybrid works remarkably well for the most part, with the actors bringing the drama and their real-life counterparts their personal take on what took place.
Where it loses traction as a drama, is in the fact that the real-life characters are all thoroughly engaging, especially Warren Lipka, and the story would have come more to life with further contributions from them all. It also would have been fascinating to have all four of them in the same room now, reflecting on how they feel about the crime, and each other. A missed opportunity then.
Still, there’s enough here to draw you in, in what is an absorbing tale well told. And a further reminder, just in case you need it for your next visit to the pick ‘n’ mix, that crime really doesn’t pay.