Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers

You'd think a documentary about the world's most successful syndicate of jewel thieves, especially one with as vital a title as "Smash & Grab," would muster more momentum than Havana Marking's slapdash "Story of the Pink Panthers."

Trust me, you'd do better with David Samuels' New Yorker article of forty months ago: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/12/100412fa_fact_samuels. Marking, using a dubious mélange of styles (including anonymity-protecting animation and voice modification), manages in 90 minutes (a quarter-hour longer than the runtime quoted on Rotten Tomatoes) to shed almost no light on the ground-level workings of the Panthers' operation.

A woman who cases the targeted jewelry stores (or at least her avatar) tells us repeatedly of her essential role, but offers few details beyond looking the part of a high-end diamond buyer, chatting up the employees under false pretenses, and making as many mental and recorded images as possible. There is talk of safecracking, but far less insider detail than we got in "Rififi" 58 years ago. Marking poses softball questions and no follow-ups. "Everybody ends up with their share," a high-level boss tells her. Well, how does that happen? Nor does she glean insight into the many-layered international police operation targeting the Panthers, which seemingly should make for an interesting film in its own right. 

"Smash & Grab" spends almost half its running time on the modern history of the former Yugoslavia, home to most of the top Panthers. This material is only mildly interesting, and Marking doesn't tie it in to the jewel thieving well enough. The effect is vaguely schizophrenic. This film plays like a dumbed-down, slicked-up one-hour TV show (with clear breaks for commercials) stretched out to feature length. Skip it and read the New Yorker piece instead.

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