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LAFF Movie Review: Loot
Photo courtesy of Loot
It has been said about some documentaries that they would seem unbelievable were they not actually true. Loot is just such a film. Its premise is so spectacular, its story so absurd and compelling that your mouth ultimately just falls open as you watch it all unfold. The film begins with presumptive treasure hunter Lance Larson in the Philippines. He's at a dig site looking for gold that the Japanese may have buried there during World War II. Of course, the hunt comes up empty and soon Lance is back in the U.S. chatting up two WW2 vets who buried their own treasure during the war and are finally ready to go look for it.
Those two vets are Darrel and Andy. Darrel is a minister in Utah who served on the Austrian-German border during the tail end of World War II. During the final days of the conflict, Darrel and a friend looted a jewelry store and stashed its contents in the attic of a nearby house. Andy, on the other hand, served in the Philippines where he came across a cache of gold and samurai swords which he promptly buried in the jungle near the beach. He now lives in a house in Arizona which even the most devout pack rat would say needed some spring cleaning.
Photo courtesy of Loot
In the midst of all this is, of course, Lance Larson who be the most eccentric of all of them. In his own words, he's a "rainbow chaser" and the respective treasures of Darrel and Andy may be the pot of gold he's been searching for all his life. There are, however, complications with the search. Serious complications. Darrel is almost blind so he's not sure how he's going to find the house where he hid his loot. And while Andy drew a map of exactly where his is buried, he can no longer find it in his mess of a house. Despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, none of the men are dissuaded from the pursuit.
The stories are told in parallel by director, Darius Marder. We spend time with Lance and Andy as they comb through years of junk in Andy's house. They find things as diverse as animatronic babies and thick stacks of hundred dollars bills that Andy had apparently forgotten about, but the map's location proves constantly elusive. The search continues for at least 9 months during which time we see how much the experience of the war is still deeply held in Andy's heart. There is a firm notion in our collective cultural mind about WWII being a more heroic war than our later effort in Vietnam. Andy's recollections about the surfeit of war crimes committed by American troops gives lie to that belief, and his eventual confessions are startling.
As for Darrel, he and Lance are quickly off to Austria even though they aren't entirely sure where they are going. They arrive and--seriously--just start wandering the city near where Darrel was stationed. They virtually go door-to-door looking for people who were alive during the war hoping they might be able to furnish some clue as to where Darrel's forgotten house might be. It is the ultimate needle-in-the-haystack hunt that---amazingly--proves more worthwhile than you would possibly imagine. It would be awful to reveal that final, astonishing moment but the moment immediately thereafter--where Darrel kneels in an empty field and is completely overcome with emotion--is so naked and profound that your tears will break through immediately.
Loot is presumably about hunting for treasure, but like all great films it is really about much more. Darius Marder has crafted a film that delivers equal parts stunned amusement and and genuine joy and pain. In Lance, Darrel and Andy he has found three characters that could not be invented by the most imaginative screenwriter. Rarely does a movie succeed completely, but Loot does exactly that. It is a film that you shouldn't miss.