British filmmaker Havana Marking's Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers earns its laurels as one of the most audacious and remarkable documentaries ever made. The conceit alone is astonishing: Working with the BBC, Marking and her team somehow managed to liaison with two members of the "Pink Panthers," a multinational cadre of jewel thieves allegedly responsible for up to $300 million in heists over a period of many years. Realizing that these elusive criminals would never, under any normal circumstances, agree to disclose their identities on camera, Marking somehow persuaded them to appear in covert form, their faces masked by rotoscoping and with the thieves’ words dubbed over with the voices of actors on the soundtrack. Crosscutting between the testimonies of the thieves, interviews with the detectives assigned to track down these criminals, and actual security-camera footage of the various break-ins, Marking skillfully tells the Panthers’ story.
This raises all kinds of fundamental questions -- how Marking obtained permission from the thieves, how the act of making the movie per se qualified as legally viable in light of Interpol's presence in Europe, etc. -- that lead one to conclude that a behind-the-scenes making-of documentary might be even more interesting than the film itself. Regardless, what we do get is taut, persuasive, and exciting. It has the magnetic pull of the best true-crime chronicles, as well as consistently fluid execution. The rotoscoping concept may not be revolutionary -- it's a thinly disguised version of the old segments on programs like 20/20, which masked the identities of vulnerable interviewees by shadowing their faces and dubbing over their voices -- but it works effectively enough. The picture also benefits from a degree of depth unusual for a crime-themed documentary; in lieu of a simple beat-by-beat that lays out the major milestones of the Panthers' history, we get historical context that shows us -- among other things -- how broken sociopolitical barriers in Eastern Europe during the Balkan strife of the mid-’90s prompted a black market and a criminal underground to steadily gestate -- and (on a wonderfully comedic note) how the United States government reportedly contributed to this atmosphere by issuing phony passports to sketchy characters demanding passage from the Slavic countries.
This may or may not be a perfect film, but it's a bold, striking, and beautifully crafted one that establishes and sustains audience involvement throughout.
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- Released: 2012
- Review: British filmmaker Havana Marking's Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers earns its laurels as one of the most audacious and remarkable documentaries ever made. The conceit alone is astonishing: Working with the BBC, Marking and her team somehow mana… (more)