Heist Review: Netflix Doc Appreciates That Crime Pays

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You can watch, but you may not want to try these at home. Heist, Netflix’s new crime-docuseries, makes it look very tempting to go for the big money grab. Whether it comes in paper or bottles, bushels or barrels, cash is king, and it is fun to be a kingpin. Living large on illicit funds is a blast. Pursuit is inevitable. Capture is probable. Jail is doable. Especially if there is some money stashed away.

The interesting thing is, of all of the cases investigated in the show, the only criminal who might not have something saved for retirement is the one who got away with the crime and turned herself in. Told by the people who pulled them off, Heist is a cautionary tale that throws caution to the wind. The docuseries was produced by Dirty Robber, it chronicles the events of three famous modern heists. Each case gets two episodes, the build-up and the downfall. But underneath it all is a running romance with crime.

In the first episode, “Sex Magick Money Murder, a 21-year-old woman steals millions in Vegas casino cash. She does it for love, gives it up for love, and hopes her lover enjoyed his enriched life. That is, if he’s still alive. In “The Money Plane,” a man swipes $6 million from an airport warehouse in Miami to adopt a child for the woman he loves. “The Bourbon King” siphons off enough liquid gold to get a whole county drunk and the whole country watching, but the team captain gave up local softball fame for his wife.

The dramatic reenactments of the heists are as enthusiastic as the crimes. Heist sticks to robberies where no deaths occurred during the crime. This makes it easier to like the people who pulled off the jobs. We root for them. For the most part, they’re not career criminals. They are normal working stiffs who were lucky enough to be presented with an opportunity which was too good to pass up. Anyone watching might do it. That’s the hook. Remember, these people did time for it.

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Director Derek Doneen had me at the title with “Sex Magick Money Murder.” When Heather Tallchief starts talking about tantric sex magic, you can feel how the very promise of crime pays off. Tallchief had a rough childhood, her mother dumped her on a father who scared crackheads because he smoked pot laced with formaldehyde. She finds the perfect man, a paroled murderer, with the greatest pickup line: “Do you believe in the devil?” Roberto Solis shot and killed an armored car guard during a robbery attempt in 1969. He wrote books while in prison, and had a way with words. A conversation begun in San Francisco ends in Las Vegas when they make off with over $3 million in a heist on a Loomis Armored truck.

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Heather, who had just gotten her driver’s license, gets a job as a driver just to pull off the crime. Her co-workers thought she was cute, but had such a bad sense of direction when she was late picking them up, they were afraid to call it in and get her in trouble. An actress playing Tallchief captures the wild ride with a wide range, from the whirlwind romance to the jealousies that broke it up.

All of the episodes are paced similarly to feature heist films like Ocean’s Eleven and Catch Me If You Can, but Cuban immigrant Karls Monzon hadn’t seen the film Goodfellas when he scored the biggest airport take since 1978 Lufthansa heist at New York’s JFK airport. It’s probably the only background cinema he didn’t study. Monzon schooled himself by watching crime shows on TV. He was a fast learner. The haul in the Martin Scorsese film was $5.875 million. Monzon nearly got away with stealing $7.4 million. He’s done his time, and swears none of his share of the money is left. But audiences would be well within their rights to hope he’s stashed some extra bundles in that PVC pipe.

“The Money Plane” was directed by Martin Desmond Roe, and he presents it with heart. The love story between Monzon and Cinnamon is told with wit, warmth and street wisdom. He wants the perfect American life: wife, house and baby, but even after several expensive treatments at fertility clinics, it looks impossible to hit the trifecta. When Monzon puts his mind to it, he can do anything, he says. He gets word of the cash transfer from Onelio Diaz, who works as a guard for Brink’s Security. Monzon’s mind works in mysterious ways, and he comes across as a natural talent.

“The Bourbon King,” directed by Nick Frew, takes a deep swig from Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger’s personal stash of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. “Pappygate” was a headline news darling in 2013, when more than 65 cases of Pappy Van Winkle and Wild Turkey bourbons and rye whiskeys were reported stolen by the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Curtsinger was a good ol’ boy, and wasn’t doing anything everyone else wasn’t doing. He was just doing it better. On the Kentucky softball team he plays on, he could drive a grounder into a pitcher’s nuts at whim.

Curtsinger worked at the distillery for 26 years, starting at the loading docks and working his way up. He cops display bottles, and takes and makes deliveries at the finest of gatherings. He gets popped for having five full barrels of stolen Wild Turkey 101 bourbon on his property. Even though they specifically say the scenario isn’t anything like Dukes of Hazzard, Curtsinger’s team peels out off the most unbeaten paths. A player named Dusty is the most fun of the crew. Once he finds out he’s being followed, he plays with the cops, seeing just how far they’ll go before he strands them in some backwoods area with no offramp. He sets a meeting with county deputies just across the line of their jurisdiction.

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The high points are the details. Not only on how the crimes were committed, but why. The human stories that lead to legendary lawlessness. Also, most true crime documentaries, like Making a Murderer, still leave audiences with questions. Their function is to solve a case, and more often than not are cold cases. Heist presents closed cases. It is unique because people who committed the crimes get more airtime than the ones who solve it.

The stories are told from the perspective of people who know what it feels like to pull off an impossible crime. The criminals openly discuss the finer points, from a wise distance, but with fond memories. What does $7.4 million look like? It looks beautiful. We get how they select their targets, put together the crew, the meticulous planning, the emotional journey, the redemption, and the regret. But there is one more dividend. Each installment leaves some hint about unrecovered swag. Heist pays off, because the thrill of the theft is its own reward.

Heist premieres July 14 on Netflix.

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