The world's most successful ring of diamond thieves is inventively and insightfully explored in the documentary "Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers." Director Havana Marking eschews "Ocean's Eleven"-style tension for a more personal, contextual approach to how this international robbery network, named after the pricey pink diamond from the Inspector Clouseau comedies, arose in the wake of the chaotic, early-1990s dismantling of its founders' homeland, the former Yugoslavia.
The movie features a deft recounting of that country's 20th century history, including the death of leader Josip Broz Tito, the turbulent Slobodan Miloševi¿ regime, the Yugoslav wars and the economic strife that ensued as the nation fractured. These events provide a meaty, complex springboard for the Panthers' eventual worldwide crime spree that, according to the film, has comprised 500 thefts netting $300 million worth of jewels and luxury goods.
Marking notably weaves in lengthy interviews with two Panthers who offer a kind of how-to in high-end thievery. Given the obvious need for discretion, these candid crooks are cleverly shown via rotoscope animation, with actors dubbing their voices.
Several investigators and cops also weigh in on the mostly Serbian gang, 50 members of which have reportedly been arrested since 2007. Archival clips plus startling surveillance footage of Panther break-ins from across the globe round out this involving portrait.
"Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills