'This Is a Robbery' Review: Netflix Art Heist Doc Series Suffers from True Crime Tunnel Vision

Despite the built-in chaos of the event itself — most notably: a combination of clear operation planning and a seemingly random sacking of paintings and relatively worthless objects — director Colin Barnicle’s four-part series is a fairly solid summary of the details that journalists, investigators, and witnesses have been able to cobble together in the time since.

“This is a Robbery” starts with a spry introduction of a few of the more relevant people, them moves to a discussion of not only what happened that fateful night, but the impact that disappearance had on both the immediate and longterm psyche of those who were left to sift through the consequences.

Beginning with Anne Hawley, the museum director at the time, stretching out to include local newspaper reporters and federal law enforcement, and eventually landing at the home of an infamous figure in fine art laundering circles, all the pieces are in place for a series that can go beyond the facts of the case.

Whether it’s the crime’s 30th anniversary (which came and went to little fanfare last March, understandably due to the fact that there were other slightly pressing global issues to contend with at the time) or a reduction in the sentence of a person of interest, there was a non-zero chance that a break in the case could have happened during production.

For all the questions that still remain about where the paintings are, the participants in the series seem to have no qualms pointing to organized crime as a key culprit (in whatever form or group it happened to ultimately pass through).

Throw a dart at the Netflix programming lineup from the last few months and odds are you’ll find a true crime series with plenty of shared DNA with “This is a Robbery.” But as recent Netflix docs go, maybe the most illustrative comparison is “Murder Among the Mormons.” That three-part overview of a group of bombings in the Salt Lake City area in 1985 used the finality of its ending to put the audience in the mindset of people discovering shocking behavior and deceptions as the tragedy was unfolding.

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