A mystery without a solution, Rebecca Dreyfus' documentary revolves around one of the most infamous art heists in American history: the theft on St. Patrick's Day 1990 of 13 masterworks from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, including Johannes Vermeer's The Concert, by two men masquerading as police officers. Depite a generous reward for the paintings' return — $5 million at last count — not one of the works has resurfaced. Widely acknowledged as America's first great art collector, Gardner (1840-1924) amassed an enormous trove of European masterworks via her dealer, Bernard Berenson, who, in one of the film's many ironies, wasn't above using less-than-legal methods to get them out of their countries of origin. The Concert was a particular coup, given that the Dutch painter died young and painted slowly — only 35 authenticated Vermeers are know to exist. In the early stages of Dreyfus' research, she contacted Harold Smith, a dapper 75-year-old who, despite a decades-long battle with brutally disfiguring skin cancer (triggered by an experimental treatment at the hands of Merchant Marine Academy doctors when he was a young man), became a world-renowned specialist in fine-art recovery. Smith suggested that instead of merely examining the case, they should reopen it. Smith set up a tip line that brought in calls implicating everyone from The Beatles to the museum's own guards to the staff of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, and spearheaded a new investigation that turned up an astonishing array of fiction-ready characters. They range from Boston Globe reporter Tom Mashberg, who conducted his own reinvestigation in 1997 and was rewarded with a glimpse of what may have been one of the missing Rembrandts in a warehouse, to a reformed English villain named Paul "Turbocharger" Hendry, who implicates the Irish Republican Army. The story Smith uncovers hinges on an Irish mafia boss and secret FBI informant named Whitey Bulger, notorious art thief Myles Connor and his onetime associate, thuggish stolen-art dealer William Youngworth, who snarls that the painting could be back in half an hour if the FBI would offer immunity from prosecution, which they refuse to do even though other crooks can "get a pass for 19 murders." Dreyfus pads the story with experts who testify swooningly to the irreplaceable importance of The Concert, and voice re-creations of Gardner and Berenson's correspondence by Blythe Danner and Campbell Scott. But in the end it all comes to naught: Tantalyzing though the leads are, the paintings remain elusive.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: NR
- Review: A mystery without a solution, Rebecca Dreyfus' documentary revolves around one of the most infamous art heists in American history: the theft on St. Patrick's Day 1990 of 13 masterworks from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, including Johannes Verm… (more)