“American Animals” has becomes one of the surprise summer hits at the speciality box office, and the film continues to expand into more theaters this month.
But beyond serving as a cautionary tale, the film is chock-full of some great film references that you might not have caught the first time. As part of their prep, the actors watched “Dog Day Afternoon,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Heat,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and other films, and it shows in the movies itself.
Here some key references you might have missed in “American Animals.” All descriptions courtesy of The Orchard.
This tracking shot behind Eric (Jared Abrahamson), as he waits for his ride to the heist, ends just by his legs as he steps into the car. The shot was designed to echo a shot in the heist scene that opens Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”
After Spencer (Barry Keoghan) and Warren (Evan Peters) talk about the Audubon books in the library for the first time, Warren pulls into a gas station. Spencer goes into the mini-mart and guy standing on line in front of him is actually the real Spencer Reinhard.
If you look very carefully you can see that there are flamingos on Warren’s shirt as he describes his plan for the heist. Of course, the key image from the Audubon book that entrances Spencer is also a flamingo.
As Warren and Spencer wait to be picked up by Chas (Blake Jenner) for their first attempt at the heist, Spencer plays with a pepper-and-salt-shaker set shaped like dinosaurs. Why dinosaurs? It’s a reference to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” is one of the books that the boys ultimately get away with stealing.
The dog in the wheelchair, who walks in front of the bungalow where the boys are busy plotting, is both a reference to evolution and to the title of the film. “American Animals” was inspired by Darwin’s quote about domesticated animals being no longer equipped for survival in the wild.
This is a theme that runs through the film. The boys are misguidedly searching for what they consider to be a true experience of life, something echoed by Warren’s obsession with supermarket packaging.
The specific Darwin quote on the drooping ears of domesticated dogs can be seen on the page of “The Origin of Species” that Spencer is reading in the car on the way back from New York.
Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation” is used over the fantasy heist, referring to “Ocean’s 11,” which the real guys watched several times in planning their own heist.
Warren throws a number of movie references into the film, riffing on the idea that Warren is sinking into a fantasy world. One of these is when he tells Eric that this is his “red pill or blue pill moment,” which comes straight from “The Matrix.”
When Warren returns from Amsterdam, he tells Spencer that they are “going to need a bigger boat.” It’s a reference that Spencer doesn’t know, but we all know comes from “Jaws.”
The old man disguises are a real detail of the true story, but the costumes were also a nod to the original “Taking of Pelham One Two Three.”
Some of the sequence is a subtle nod to the final bank heist in “Heat,” where the robbers all take up positions in different parts of the bank.
The noise of the pencil sharpener used by Chas in the scene is a direct reference to the noise of the squeaky sound swinging in the wind in Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.”
The use of the whip pan during the montage of the characters putting the heist preparation plan into action is another nod to “Ocean’s 11.” Here, we move from Spencer buying disguise make up to Eric negotiating for the getaway car.
The split screens during the montage for the day of the first heist are a small homage to the original version of “The Thomas Crown Affair.”