Heist (Netflix) is a wildly entertaining collection of true-crime stories that falls firmly into “you couldn’t make it up” territory. In forensic detail, this debut season recalls three audacious robberies, using recreations, interviews with key players on both sides of the law and archive news footage. Each tale is split over two episodes, with one building up to the crime and the second detailing the sometimes painfully slow downfall of those involved. It is occasionally trashy – the first, in particular, goes to town on the reconstructions – sometimes funny, tense and exciting. In terms of taking sides, it can be playfully, cheekily on-the-fence. Crime never pays, it argues. Or does it?
The first instalment, Sex Magick Money Murder, is as outrageous and lurid as the title suggests. In the early 1990s, a young woman named Heather Tallchief is working as a nursing assistant, caring for young patients who are critically ill with Aids. Tallchief is from a tough background and develops a drug problem, going into what she refers to as “a downward spiral” at just 21. Enter a charismatic older man who promises to love her and take all her troubles away. Roberto Solis is a career criminal who operates under a raft of aliases. He is a poet with an interest in mysticism, the tarot and the power of harnessing sex energy, all of which leads him towards that ultimate spiritual goal of stealing a truckload of cash.
Tallchief gets a job working for a security company that transports huge amounts of money away from casinos in Las Vegas. Her colleagues at the time joke that she was a terrible driver. She and Solis concoct and execute a daring heist, stealing $3m using fake business signs, careful notes and a grey wig, among other crucial devices. The recreations are cheesy, but in the second episode it gets good, delving into the psychological ramifications of living a life constantly looking over one’s shoulder and how the unravelling of years of deception usually comes from within.
If Tallchief’s story of life on the run in the Caribbean and Amsterdam sounds as if it would lend itself to a classy TV adaptation, then the final instalment, The Bourbon King, deserves a Hollywood movie. It manages to pull together such disparate strands as a high-end bourbon-smuggling syndicate, the brand name Pappy Van Winkle and a recreational softball team, all under the watchful eye of Toby Curtsinger, who describes himself as “kinda like a mini Amazon” because he can get anything for anyone.
The best is the second story, The Money Plane, which gathers together a characterful cast of criminals to explain their roles in a near-perfect heist set in motion by a couple’s fertility problems. Karls Monzon, a Cuban immigrant living in Miami, marries into a lively family described by a friend as “not bad-bad, just doing a lot of crazy shit”. He and his new wife want a big family of their own, but have trouble conceiving, and she experiences two traumatic miscarriages. They decide to adopt a Russian baby, but it is prohibitively expensive. So Monzon assembles a gang of relatives and friends and decides to rob an airport hangar where, thanks to an inside man, they know there will be almost $100m in cash. “I just wanted to steal enough money to adopt a child,” Monzon claims, despite lining up enough money to adopt a small nation’s worth.
Monzon is an eloquent man who paints himself as wholly dedicated to whatever skill he decides to explore, be it rollerskating or armed robbery. To plan the perfect crime, he immersed himself in US cop shows to work out how to evade the FBI. He lists the ones he watched: CSI: Miami and Almost Got Away With It, though the latter, surely, should have been a cautionary tale. It all goes a bit meta here, as we’re watching a show in which a man tells us which shows he watched to help commit a complex, risky heist.
There are certainly lessons to be taken from Heist itself, though perhaps not lessons that would favour aspiring criminals. The main one appears to be that no matter how daring the concept, no matter how big the payload, consciences weigh heavier than perpetrators expect. So, too, do banknotes, which are, in bulk, extremely heavy; millions of dollars cannot simply be thrown into carrier bags and spirited away. There is almost always an inside man, and almost always someone who cracks, who cannot bear the burden of life on the run, or life with a secret. Heist is cleverly told, keeping its many twists and turns in reserve until the moments when they will have the most impact, and it is a lot of fun.