This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist
The consensus of various studies over the years is that museum visitors spend only 30 seconds looking at a painting, before averting their eyes to the next one. Galleries may be closed, but viewers of This is a Robbery will recall this sensation as the four-part documentary series about the world’s biggest art heist loses attention somewhat early.
21 years and three weeks ago on 18th March 1990, Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was invaded by two thieves disguised as police officers, who pillaged over $500 million worth of paintings, including rare pieces by renowned Baroque artists Rembrandt and Vermeer, which remain missing to this day. Impeccably researched, this miniseries dusts off the history books and chronicles the crime and its aftermath for today’s audiences.
Detailing the narrative from various perspectives – legal figures, authorities, students, relatives of suspects – and examining its aftermath, the four episodes take time to reflect on the how and why, as well as the who and what. It’s quite the coup for director Colin Barnicle, an experienced filmmaker who cut his teeth making short sports docs, to have interviewed as many important contributors as he does here, all whom can still vividly picture the events from 30 years ago.
The number of talking heads contrasts with the severe lack of archival material at his disposal, aggravated by his choice not to recreate events. Consequently, the film suffers from a visual standpoint, repeatedly using a limited bank of footage and basic drone shots commissioned to simply uplift the story with a modern aesthetic. It may have been tolerable as a 90-minute film but, at fours long, this feels better suited for an audio-only format.
The struggle of telling an excellently sourced story almost exclusively through words, even if it’s full of interesting strands such as the involvement of the mob and the insight of a former art thief and one-time suspect, ultimately leads to the show’s undoing. For an art heist feature that has the sort of cinematic storytelling sorely needed here, it’s worth seeking out the terrific 2018 docudrama American Animals.
This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist is released on Netflix on 7th April 2021.
Watch the trailer for This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist here: