This is a Robbery (Netflix) – streaming review

Despite perceptions to the contrary, art and crime are never far apart. Dark deeds plagued Renaissance painters like Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi. The artist Walter Sickert has been accused (posthumously) of being Jack the Ripper. And the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre is one of many “crimes of the 20th Century”. In the Netflix limited series This is a Robbery: The World’s Greatest Art Heist, director Colin Barnicle takes a deep dive into another prominent art crime – one that remains unsolved.

This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

In 1990, two men posing as police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. After subduing the guards, they proceeded to help themselves to 13 works of art from the museum’s stellar collection. Among them were Rembrandt’s only known seascape, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee; and The Concert, one of only 34 surviving works by Vermeer. Then they disappeared into the night. The Boston PD has never solved the crime, or recovered any of the pieces.

In this beautifully produced series, Barnicle examines the robbery itself, the possible suspects and potential links to the Boston underworld. The result is compelling television on every level. Barnicle explains the outcome (or lack of one) early on. But that doesn’t prevent this from being a fascinating documentary.

The series doesn’t break any new ground stylistically. It relies heavily on tried-and-true documentary staples including talking-head interviews and archival footage. But while that’s all pretty standard stuff, the genius here is how Baricle stitches it all together. Of course, the film editing team led by Kelly Kendrick proves critical here. But DOP Stephen McCarthy adds a very classy look and feel, while composer Jason Hill provides a winning soundtrack.

This is a Robbery gets into some pretty granular detail about its subject. For example, it points out that while the thieves stole at least five priceless works, they also stole several less-valuable sketches. They even took a finial (a decorative piece from a flag staff) that was essentially worthless. If money was the motivation, why bother with it?

It also asks some of the obvious questions – was it an inside job? If so, which of the staff are implicated? But it also goes wider to look at the Boston underworld of the early 1990s and the dynamics at play. And then there’s Myles Connor, self-confessed art thief and larger-than-life personality.

Although This is a Robbery doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, its in-depth exploration of the sensational crime makes it wonderful television. And the limited series contains only four episodes, all less than an hour long. So it’s easily bingeable as well as intensely compelling.

This is a Robbery: The World’s Greatest Art Heist is available to stream now on Netflix

David Edwards

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