A great heist tickles the brain. They got THAT, out of THERE? Impressive! Our standards for what constitutes an unbreakable place from which to break stuff out of has changed dramatically over the years, but in the early 1970s, there was one name on the lips of everyone in America: D.B. Cooper.
Cooper (not his real name, as it turned out) pulled off the kind of super cool heist that movies aspire to. He managed to hi-jack a plane by claiming he had a bomb in his suitcase, successfully collect a ransom of $200,000, and jump out of the flight with a parachute to apparently escape scot-free (neither he nor the money have ever been found) all while hurting no-one.
Now, 40 years later, Netflix has released D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?! to once again dig into this iconic American suave success story.
Notwithstanding the repeated misuse of describing the crime as a ‘Robin Hood’ theft (the U.S. chaps seem to consistently forget about the ‘give to the poor’ part of that comparison), what follows is a show only as interesting as the tale it chooses to tell.
D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?! Official Trailer
If, like myself, you had little to no knowledge of D.B. Cooper then the first half of the show is fascinating stuff, in which we deconstruct the crime and few pieces of evidence or eyewitness testimony available.
What happened is painted across a backdrop of essential period relevant information. Airport security was practically non-existent in 1971 so getting a bomb on board was frighteningly easy. In a time when commercial aviation had become a booming and commonplace industry, plane hijackings rose sharply in frequency.
But just retelling the facts is obviously too insubstantial a premise on which to release a whole new documentary. What frames this tale is a true crime examination of the minutia through a bundle of experts and obsessives in order to try and crack the case: who is D. B. Cooper?
Is D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?! Worth Watching?
The show opens with accusations being thrown at an elderly man working on yachts and spends considerable time trying to build a body of evidence strong enough to pin the identity of the mystery man on someone.
The second half of the show claims to be a re-examination of the facts but in the absence of anything particularly new (barring some declassified FBI files) instead we shift almost by accident into wallowing within the kind of person who obsesses over the case.
People like Tom Colbert, author of The Last Master Outlaw, get to expound their theories ad infinitum. Of the many talking heads (who aren’t obsessed, just looking for truth!) the overall theme is that they’ve picked a likely suspect and simply refocus all evidence to point towards that person.
This all makes the wandering ‘whodunnit’ element ultimately unfulfilling. There is some fun to be had in raking over the coals and hearing the case for certain suspects, sure.
Could Vietnam veteran and serial fraudster Robert Rackshaw be the man? Or maybe Special Forces Commando Ted Braden described as having a ‘death wish’ by former colleagues? Ah, but see, he died in 2007 and so unsurprisingly Rackshaw (who was still alive at the time of filming) is the one to get a camera in his face. It’s hard to shake filmmaking convenience from objective truth.
Accuracy of the finger wagging or not, D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?! has enough slick production to make for a couple of evenings worth of entertainment.
The wonderfully stylised title sequence which apes the excitement of time specific air travel is always a delight. Yet nothing about the show can be more interesting than one simple fact: parachutes.
Cooper didn’t request one parachute as he knew authorities may tamper with it. Instead he requested four parachutes so they couldn’t rule out him taking some of the flight crew with him. We may never know who had that level of smarts, but somewhere out there maybe $200,000 got well spent.
Words by Mike Record