A compelling and often fascinating documentary feature, Havana Marking's "Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers" ("Smash and Grab" from here on out) plays out like a real life Guy Ritchie (although director Danny Boyle has actually indicated a strong interest in adapting the story) movie. This is not a documentary about the world's most successful diamond thieves told by a bunch of investigators and officials (although we do hear from them), this is a documentary about an incredibly successful gang of thieves, with their story often told in their own words.
The international criminal group, dubbed "the Pink Panthers", was made up of more than 200 people, organized into smaller cells and despite their independence, seemingly remarkably well-organized. Their heists are often aggressive and bold, including a literal smash-and-grab where they use luxury cars to ram their way into the store. Despite their use of brute force, watching the camera footage of their work, it would appear that everything is planned down to the step - there is not a wrong move or a pause as they move swiftly. Get in, get out.
Early in the film, we see them at work while the noise from a street festival provides both a distraction and cover. Their work spread far and wide - as one of the thieves effectively says, wherever there is a collection of great wealth, they could be there. In six years, the robbed over 100 stores in 20 different countries. In one heist, they apparently even covered a bench in wet paint so no one would sit there and potentially see them at work.
In other instances, a seductive woman often played a decoy and spy, picking up on little details in the planning stages. One of the male members of the group notes that only a woman could have done it - men casing a potential target would stand out too much. A woman can ask to see a ring, chat or pull in other information that would be helpful. The planning process would take months and cost a great deal of money. As she notes, "one little error and we are doomed."
Marking's documentary gets that tension down quite well - these people believe they are good and maybe some of the best, but they don't speak about their work with ego, they speak about their work with intense focus. Of course, so do the police officials who kept building clue after clue in their chase.
They also remained heavily aware of the realities and the risk, according to one interview with a member: "You can't sleep. You can't sleep, for god sakes. There's no panic during the job - the panic begins when you run." Adding to the tension is the possibility of a traitor. "We're all in this together, we're all friends, but with all this loot, your brain works on a different frequency", says one member an interview.
Marking's film is not about judging, it's focused on cracking the case of who these people are and what makes them tick, not to mention the skills that they had to possess to get through these jobs. Their insights into the coordination and planning that was actually required is wild - it's a real life "Ocean's Eleven". The group's work is quite audacious, including a robbery during the Cannes Film Festival.
The film's style - mixing animated interviews, CCTV footage of the crimes, tv footage, new interviews and more - is slick and vibrant without being gimmicky or overwhelming. It's a crisp, brisk picture that - at around 90 minutes - moves along rapidly. Overall, this is a highly engaging documentary feature and I look forward to both future films from director Marking as well as the potential feature film based on the story.
VIDEO/AUDIO: Music Box Films presents "Smash and Grab" in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Presentation quality is very good, considering the documentary format. The material is taken from different sources, including animated material, CCTV camera footage, TV clips and new interview. Sharpness and detail are usually good, especially on the new interview footage. Some minor wear was seen on the older TV footage, but no pixelation or other problems were seen. Colors varied, but appeared accurate. The film's audio was documentary-style, with minimal activity beyond dialogue.
EXTRAS: The DVD includes a handful of minor extras, including an insightful and entertaining director's interview, featurette on the animation, animated storyboards, CCTV robbery footage, Dubai police film and an exclusive Pink Panther phone call.
Final Thoughts: A strong documentary feature, "Smash and Grab" certainly grabs the attention as it draws viewers into the world of incredibly successful thieves. The DVD offers very good video quality, fine audio and a handful of smallish supplements. Recommended.