The Quarantine Stream: 'This is a Robbery' Investigates 'The World's Biggest Art Heist'
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: This is a Robbery
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: A docuseries that covers the still-unsolved 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: There are a lot of true crime docuseries around these days, especially on Netflix. And This Is a Robbery doesn’t exactly break the mold. Indeed, it has many of the problems that plague so many other modern true crime docuseries. And yet, the subject matter is so fascinating that you’ll likely be willing to overlook some flaws.
In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as cops entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, tied up the guards, and proceeded to make off with a haul that’s estimated to be worth somewhere around $500 million. And then…nothing. Art theft is a curious thing – if you steal works that are so well-known you can’t really do much with them. Flipping them for a profit is hard, and it’s not exactly like you can hang the stuff up on your own wall and act like it belongs there.
And thus, the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist has been all but impossible to solve. This might be a big red flag for some viewers because a lot of streaming services – especially Netflix – keep pumping out these true crime shows where there’s no real resolution. An unsolved mystery can be tantalizing – there’s an entire show called Unsolved Mysteries, after all – but devoting multiple parts to one unsolved crime can be frustrating.
Yet I found This Is a Robbery to be compelling. Perhaps it’s because I had never heard the story before. Or maybe I had heard it once, and it slipped my memory. In any case, the coverage here feels fresh and interesting. There’s a curiosity to the entire thing – why steal these paintings and then do pretty much nothing with them? The FBI found zero evidence that the art had ended up on any black market. By all accounts, it sounds like the majority of the art ended up in a storage facility, and likely still sits there to this day, gathering dust. This means that several works from noted masters – Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and more – are now seemingly lost forever. Sure, there are reproductions of these works, but they’re not the real thing. And there’s something tragic about that.
Beyond that, This Is a Robbery has a lot of fun with the local color – lots of folks here have thick Boston accents, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Ben Affleck decides to turn this into a feature film. If you’re looking for closure, This Is a Robbery is not for you. But if you want to get engrossed in an interesting story of great art that has up and vanished, this is well worth checking out.
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