"What is it about art theft we can't resist?" is just one question posed by host and art critic Alastair Sooke in this BBC documentary about some of the most notable high-stakes art robberies on record. Sooke strives to learn more about those who commit art theft, their motivations, and how it is that so few pieces are ever returned to their rightful owners.
Though several cases are discussed, the most focus is placed on a robbery from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum over twenty-five years ago. Known as the biggest art crime in history, the theft was carried out by two men posing as police officers. They managed to steal thirteen pieces total, from invaluable masterworks to a dubious piece of ornamentation. To this day no one has ever been caught, nor have any of the stolen works been found. The crime is largely suspected to have been the act of a slick connoisseur a la The Thomas Crown Affair.
When Sooke Interviews a top art crime investigator, however, the notion that eccentric millionaire collectors are behind these crimes is swiftly debunked. Contrary to the romanticized image of the crafty burglar, it is revealed to primarily be career criminals that run the underground business of art theft. As the pieces themselves often exceed any monetary value (therefore negating any potential ransom or re-sale value profit) they are used as currency within the world of organized crime to buy drugs and arms.
Sooke also interviews Miles Connor, a known art thief who claims to know the men who robbed the Gardner Museum. Bragging that he helped plan the heist and blaming its success largely on the stupidity of the museum guard on duty that fateful evening, his description of the event as it really happened also runs counterintuitive to the preconceived notions of art robbery.
In addition to Sooke's narration and standard interviews, the film utilizes a musical score and stylized re-enactments that play on the mischievous spirit of caper movies while simultaneously making the argument that the world of art theft is a far cry from the Hollywood myth.