Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Seamus Haley, Laurent Richard, and Aurélia Rouvier, Banksy Most Wanted is a new documentary exploring the eponymous street art icon. And while Banksy’s own film Exit Through the Gift Shop remains the definitive movie on the subject, this is a fascinating watch for anyone who is intrigued by the idea of Banksy.
The film takes a look at the art and identity of Banksy, addressing the various theories that fans and critics around the world have come up with as to what the real identity of Banksy actually is. A select few people in the world really know the artist but are sworn to secrecy or otherwise refuse to share with the world.
Because of this, the movie plays out like a real-life mystery. The filmmakers take an almost journalism-like approach to the story as they investigate the different theories of the artist’s identity and the evidence that people have gathered to support them. The level of conjecture and coincidence that these are reliant on is ridiculous, but often amusing to watch.
The first third or so of the film is dedicated to a more general survey of Banksy’s work, and this contains the expected interviews with art industry experts and such. It is when the movie starts going into the more hypothetical portion of the film that the interviews become more interesting as people share their own “Banksy sightings”.
The filmmakers do a great job of making the viewer admire Banksy’s process, although it fails to accurately capture what makes Banksy art so special. Yes, the hidden identity is a big part of the intrigue, but the social statements made with Banksy’s art are arguably more important. For a movie about such a revolutionary voice in street art, this is disappointingly frivolous.
That said, when the film fully dives into the ethical implications of Banksy’s hidden identity, it manages to be rather thought-provoking. One of the most interesting arguments made in the movie is that Banksy’s work is similar to that of a magician: if the secret is revealed, it loses a lot of its appeal.
On a technical level, the filmmakers have made an entertaining and cinematic documentary, even if the pacing is somewhat rushed. The cinematography and editing infuse the movie with a lot of visual energy, which is fitting given the chaotic nature of the subject’s work. And of course, Banksy fans will get to catch some glimpses of some of their favorite pieces.
Banksy Most Wanted isn’t a great art documentary, but it’s interesting for what it is. Those who aren’t already learned on the subject may find more to enjoy in the film’s heavy theorization, but others will already know much of this story.
Banksy Most Wanted was set to debut at the cancelled 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.