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[SXSW ’22] ‘The Thief Collector’ review: Art heist documentary about truth, reality, and image

To own wealth is to be possessed by it.

The Thief Collector is a true crime documentary that gets off to a fun start. In 1985, one of the most valuable paintings of the 20th was stolen in broad daylight from a museum in Arizona. When it was found three decades later, it led to even more questions. The film’s use of dramatic reenactments are the highlight. Glenn Howerton and Sarah Minnich are excellent as Jerry and Rita Alter, the thrill seeking couple that ends up being the focus of The Thief Collector. They bring an element of comedy to the already audacious art heist. 

It becomes clear early that The Thief Collector is going to be more about the Alters than the actual theft. Though it never gets away from the crime, such as examining theories as to why the painting was stolen, the bulk explores the lives of the couple. Stories about the two include being smuggled into countries to questions about illegal international deals. Just when it seems like things have reached their peak, the tales becomes even crazier.

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There is a mystery of the unknown that hangs over all the stories. Truth, reality, and perception are a big part of The Thief Collector. The promise of answers lead to even more questions. Few documentaries remain this engaging the whole time. The Thief Collector has moments when it steps away from its lighter tone. This includes a weird departure into how Jerry may have controlled his wife. While these moments feel out of place, they do not take away from the overall enjoyment.

The Thief Collector comes to SXSW March 13

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