The Thief Collector
Genre: Documentary, Crime
Year Released: 2023
Runtime: 1h 36m
Director(s): Allison Otto
Writer(s): Mark Monroe, Nick Andert
Cast: Glen Howerton, Sarah Minnich
Where To Watch: in select theaters in May, On Demand May 19, 2023
RAVING REVIEW: First and foremost, if you have any desire to watch this, just do it. While I try to avoid spoilers, going blind to this is the best! Director Allison Otto unearths some potential secrets in the heart of New Mexico's farmlands in THE THIEF COLLECTOR, a fascinating documentary. Beneath the simple roof of Jerry and Rita Alter's modest home, a long-lost artwork by Willem de Kooning, known as "Woman-Ochre," had potentially been hiding in plain sight. Valued at a whopping $160 million, this artwork vanished from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in 1985, and its unresolved disappearance forms the backbone of Otto's film.
THE THIEF COLLECTOR is a narrative and four threads. Each explores a different aspect of the Alters' existence and their connection to the potential art theft. Otto navigates the tumultuous world of art theft, art appreciation, and the Alters' ties to the stolen painting.
The movie's lens examines the Alters' past, unique lifestyle, and unexpected brush with infamy as it investigates the intriguing incident. Otto knits together a narrative collage of interviews, historical photographs, and legal records interspersed with dramatized sequences. These snippets are a fascinating way to fill in some blanks but don’t add much to the film's entirety. Otto paints the canvas of the narrative with a diverse palette of perspectives, highlighting its complexity. The Alters, painted in various shades of audacious criminals and average educators, are depicted with multi-dimensional depth.
The documentary also takes viewers on a whirlwind tour of the Alters' global adventures, during which they potentially gathered a unique assortment of artifacts and artworks, including the notorious "Woman-Ochre." An atmosphere of uncertainty hangs around the Alters as the narrative unwinds. The intriguing paradox of their association with the stolen painting and their lavish lifestyle adds an edge to the film, making it irresistible.
Underneath their outwardly ordinary existence, the Alters were thrill-chasers. This penchant for pushing the envelope enriches their narrative, making their story all the more engaging.
While THE THIEF COLLECTOR is an absorbing watch, it's not without its imperfections. The plot sometimes veers towards more of a conspiracy theory take and editing out some of the more outlandish claims could have made for a more compact narrative. However, the intrigue of its central tale quickly eclipses these minor blemishes.
THE THIEF COLLECTOR is more than a recounting of what could have been a daring art theft; and trying to examine the Alters' minds, desires, and motivations with only some journals and interviews of those who thought they knew them. The film presents a narrative riddled with moral gray areas and contradictions, blurring the line between reality and fantasy.
At its heart, THE THIEF COLLECTOR is a chronicle of a mystery enshrouded crime. It provides an in-depth depiction of the Alters and their potential role in this twisted tale.
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[photo courtesy of FILM RISE]