Review by Camden Ferrell
The Mystery of D.B. Cooper is the newest film from director John Dower. Its subject and events have gained fame and elevated into legendary status since 1971. While this movie occasionally stumbles in its exploration of these events, it is still an interesting and mysterious look into one of the world’s most perplexing hijackings.
This film explores the legacy and potential suspects in the only unsolved act of air piracy in U.S. history. Someone under the titular pseudonym disappeared by jumping off a plane with a parachute with $200,000 and has not been found since. The documentary looks at four possible suspects and the evidence for each one. It’s a fascinating premise that serves as great source material for the movie.
Dower uses a combination of archive footage, interviews, and reenactments, and it’s a blend that works very well. He avoids the common mistake of overusing any specific type of footage, and he instead layers them over each other for more narrative coherence and flow. This seems the be a skill that Dower has honed over his career, and it benefits the film greatly.
The interviews have fairly interesting subjects that each have a unique contribution to the mystery surrounding these events. They have great evidence and anecdotal experience that is as interesting as it is unpredictable. Even if they aren’t remarkably captivating, these interviewees do prove to be essential to the film.
The main flaw of this film comes from the fact it seems to squander the potential of its story. This hijacking may be one of the most interesting heists of which I have ever heard, and the documentary isn’t nearly as sensational as it could have been. Not to say that it’s bland, but that it never achieves the greatness that it could have.
The movie still manages to feel fresh throughout despite its flaws, and it is a very fast-paced film that doesn’t waste any of its sub-90-minute runtime. It tells the story of the heist and intercuts it with the four possible suspects, and it prevents the movie from dragging too much or feeling dull. It maintains its tone and pace quite well and that is a testament to Dower’s ability as a filmmaker.
One thing this movie doesn’t provide is closure. Obviously, the title should indicate that, but it is a mystery that raises more questions than it answers. There’s an oddly satisfying ambiguity in the lack of resolution that helps consign this hijacking to legend.
The Mystery of D.B. Cooper is an interesting exploration into a famous hijacking. It uses a variety of material to tell its story in an entertaining matter. This is a documentary that will appeal to those interesting in crime documentaries and unexplained mysteries.
The Mystery of D.B. Cooper premieres on HBO and HBO Max November 25.