Stolen (2006)

“It’s more than a crime.”

The subject of art theft is fascinating–after all, having stolen a painting worth millions, what can the thieves possibly do with such a hot, rare commodity? It can hardly end up at the local swap meet, and the painting’s price tag narrows the potential market down considerably. I always imagine some reclusive billionaire in a secret room drooling over his purloined treasure–hoarding it, keeping it from the eyes of the world. There’s something rather repulsive and yet oddly fascinating about such an image, and that’s what drew me to the film Stolen–a documentary concerning the unsolved theft of 13 valuable works of art.

The bold robbery–considered the biggest unsolved theft of art in U.S. history–took place in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The thieves–dressed as Boston police officers–arrived at the museum, overpowered the guards and looted 13 items–including 5 Degas, 3 Rembrandts, 1 Manet, 1 Flinck, and 1 glorious Vermeer. Within a few years, a Fine Art detective, Harold Smith set out to solve the crime.

With the announcement of a 5 million dollar reward, various con men and nutters came out of the woodwork, and the film charts the clues that continue to dribble in. Filmmaker Rebecca Dreyfus weaves excerpts of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s letters (read by actress Blythe Danner) with facts about the museum. While the front of the museum has an unprepossessing exterior, the courtyard garden–inspired by Isabella Stewart Gardner’s passionate love affair with Italy is stunning. Set against the background of the museum’s history, reporters, art historians, art thieves, and various personalities add their theories about the robbery. One of the issue the film addresses is whether the question of punishment for the thieves should be allowed to hamper recovery efforts.

Ultimately, however, it’s the paintings that hold centre sway in the film–in particular the sublime Vermeer painting The Concert. And this painting, over the course of the film gradually assumes almost mythological proportions. What a pity that someone’s greed and selfishness robbed the world of this glorious masterpiece. DVD extras include trailers and deleted scenes.

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