AT THE CINEMA: A weekly round-up of the latest films

The American Animals Film.
The American Animals Film.

Grab the popcorn for the newest movies in your local cinema now. 

AMERICAN ANIMALS (15):

The repercussions of crime are brought sharply into focus in writer-director Bart Layton's lean, propulsive thriller.

Based on the true story of four young men who orchestrated a daring heist in December 2004 at Transylvania University in Kentucky, American Animals elegantly melds documentary and dramatisation to sift through the contradictory testimonies of the perpetrators.

The reliability of these remorseful narrators, who were arrested and sentenced, stokes the intrigue of Layton's film.

The men's words and actions blur - a neat stylistic conceit, which Layton uses sparingly and to great effect as his film gathers momentum, careening at alarming speed towards an inevitable final reckoning.

A brief coda reveals the fates of the four robbers, one of whom still lives in Lexington, within driving distance of the scene of his fall from grace.

"In real life, the bad guys don't get to ride off into the sunset with the money," he sombrely notes.

Art student Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) believes the key to becoming a great painter is daubs of life experience, and he has none.

After a tour of the special collections section of his university's library led by custodian Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd), which houses a rare edition of John James Audubon's beautifully illustrated The Birds Of America, Spencer conceives a plan to steal several manuscripts with athletics scholarship student Warren Lipka (Evan Peters).

"We're talking about 12 million in rare books and only one old lady guarding it," summarise the young men.

While Spencer employs his artistic skills to sketch the library's internal floor plan, Warren travels to Amsterdam where he meets an enigmatic middle man, Mr Van Der Hoek (Udo Kier), who can fence the stolen books as long as they are authenticated by a reputable auction house.

The underhand scheme takes shape and Spencer and Warren realise they need additional manpower.

They involve two friends - Erik Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas Allen (Blake Jenner) - as a lookout inside the library and a getaway driver.

The plan is simple: to immobilise Gooch and steal the books, then make a hasty exit through a back entrance, unseen by other staff who could sound an alarm.

Unfortunately, the students' best laid preparations falter and fraternal bonds buckle under the strain of a high-profile police investigation.

American Animals sinks its claws into our undivided attention, galvanised by strong performances from the four leads.

Layton's shifting focus between real-life testimonials and reconstructions - sometimes multiple versions of the same scene - is tightly controlled by a quartet of editors.

They deftly piece together a mesmerising mosaic of youthful recklessness, impetuosity and sweat-stained desperation.

Released Friday. 

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (15)

Every gay person's coming out story is different.

I was incredibly fortunate - family and friends lavished me with unconditional love after years of silent self-loathing, anguish and denial.

Their support strengthened my belief that my genetic hardwiring doesn't define or diminish me.

Love is blissfully blinkered to gender.

The teenage heroine of director Desiree Akhavan's sensitively observed drama faces a far more treacherous journey of self-discovery as she comes to terms with her sexuality.

Based on a novel by Emily M Danforth, The Miseducation Of Cameron Post chronicles the damage wrought by a gay conversion therapy camp through the eyes of one girl, who wages a war of attrition against counsellors and discovers her greatest weapons are her compassion and wit.

The script, co-written by Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele, skips nimbly through an emotional minefield of raging hormones and adolescent angst as tortured teenagers - known as disciples - root out the source of their supposed imperfection.

One girl suggests that her father's love of TV sports might have negatively impacted her femininity at an impressionable age.

It's easy to scoff but the majority of US states have not banned conversion therapy for minors on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Teenager Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) prepares to attend her high school's homecoming dance with her date Jamie (Dalton Harrod) but she would rather be dancing with female friend Coley (Quinn Shephard).

The two girls are discovered in a passionate embrace by Jamie, which forces Cameron's deeply religious guardian, her aunt Ruth (Kerry Butler), to pursue a radical course of action.

Ruth sends Cameron away to a gay conversion centre called God's Promise overseen by fearsome therapist Dr Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle), who claims her practices can help teenagers rediscover the path to heterosexuality.

Dr Marsh's brother Rick (John Gallagher Jr), her first success story, is a guitar-strumming counsellor at the centre.

Roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs) introduces Cameron to other residents including sensitive soul Mark (Owen Campbell) and marijuana-smoking misfits Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck), who is pithily described as "the Native American David Bowie".

During group therapy sessions, Dr Marsh encourages the youngsters to confront the reasons for their confusion.

"Maybe you're supposed to feel disgusted with yourself when you're a teenager," counters Jane.

As Cameron's treatment unfolds, she openly questions Dr Marsh's treatment programme.

Anchored by a quietly compelling performance from Moretz, The Miseducation Of Cameron Post tethers sympathy securely to the teenage protagonists.

Acerbic humour is deftly employed to cut through the tension between camp staff and disciples, emboldened by a purse-lipped supporting turn from Ehle.

One character's tragic narrative arc begs comparisons with Dead Poet's Society and is clearly telegraphed - but their suffering is deeply upsetting, even when we are braced for impact.

Released Friday. 

THE NUN (15)

In the 2016 horror The Conjuring 2, a pair of paranormal investigators are haunted by a demonic nun called Valak, which they eventually consign to the fiery pits of hell.

Corin Hardy directs this eagerly anticipated prequel, which reveals the origins of the hideous holy sister. In 1950s Romania, a young nun (Bonnie Aarons) at an abbey takes her own life, casting a veil of darkness over the abbey. Novitiate Sister Irene experiences disturbing visions of the nun and the Vatican dispatches her to Romania in the company of an experienced Catholic priest.

Sister Irene unearths dark secrets and confronts a force that lurks in the shadows.

Released tomorrow. 

PUZZLE (15)

A doting mother pieces together a bright future in director Marc Turtletaub's nuanced character study.

Kelly Macdonald stars as fortysomething mother Agnes, who was raised in a close-knit immigrant community by her widowed father.

Her sense of duty is focused on her family but for her birthday, Agnes receives a jigsaw puzzle and she experiences a giddy rush of excitement. 

Agnes decides to pursue jigsaws as a hobby and a reclusive inventor called Robert (Irrfan Khan) spots her natural ability.

He invites Agnes to become his partner at a forthcoming jigsaw tournament, where they will face fellow puzzlers from around the world in the ultimate test of agility, speed and concentration.

The competition takes Agnes far from the comfort of her domestic arrangement and she begins to stand on her own two feet.

Consequently, the mother realises there is more to life than catering to the desires of Louie and her boys.

Released Friday.