Netflix art heist doc needs focus

One thing that I’ve always appreciated about streaming services is that they give film and television makers an unprecedented level of creative control that might not be possible through more “traditional” means. Free of outside pressures such as strict rating guidelines, the need to attract advertisers, and time constraints, platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime can sometimes allow artists to refine their visions from what might have been a crude sketch to a full blown mural. 

The looser restrictions can also be a detriment, however, as some creators don’t seem to understand that less is sometimes more. I have often found this to be the case amongst the most unlikely of entertainers: documentarians. This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist, is one such documentary that could have greatly benefited from firmer studio control. There are many good things about it, from the visuals to the overall story, but the fact remains that it is was just too long and went on far too many unnecessary tangents to keep my attention. 

 Visually, This is a Robbery hits all the right notes for me. The reenactments are understated and accompany voiceovers instead of attempting to tell the story by themselves, the still shots of the crime’s aftermath are fascinating, and there is always something nice to look at. The story was one that intrigued me, as I have never heard of the 1990 robbery of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, and includes a huge cast of interesting, real-life characters that range from stoner security guards to museum curators to mobsters. I was also a fan of the music, although there is no denying that it was occasionally too loud and even got obnoxious once or twice. All of the right pieces for a great documentary are there. 

But just because you have the option to make your documentary four hours long doesn’t mean you have to make your documentary four hours long. The four hour-long episode format is, thankfully, a break from Netflix’s usual six hour-long episode structure, which means This is a Robbery doesn’t drag as much as other recent offerings from this particular service, which is nice. But drag it still does, particularly when the show starts to focus more on the mob (which includes many primary suspects) and less on the titular crime itself. The creators also seemed to feel the need to interview everyone they could point a camera at, as some of the talking heads felt completely unnecessary. The documentary repeats ideas constantly as well, as if the audience is made up of particularly forgetful goldfish. Needless to say, less would have been more in this case. 

At the end of the day, This is a Robbery is still a very interesting and competently made documentary. It just also happened to cross the thin line between being thorough and being a little too bloated for its own good. Ultimately, I do not feel like my time has been stolen, if you’ll forgive the pun. 

This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist is now available on Netflix.