Our fascination with crime has prompted filmmakers to keep churning out anything that shines a spotlight on the bottomless underworld. There is therefore plenty of appetite for The Jewel Thief, a Canadian criminal who claims new lands as his own, and preferably those laced with landmines. The Canadian is called Gerald Blanchard and he narrates a most fascinating tale.
Gerald was adopted as a baby. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother uprooted him from the city he loved and took him to Omaha, Nebraska. He was skinny and wore spectacles and his ‘nerdiness’ got him the wrong kind of attention.
Bullied and friendless, he buried himself in the technicalities of electronics but, after a while, he became restless. His life was boring and meaningless, so he started thinking of ways to make it more interesting. And just like that, his pre-teen criminal career was launched.
Instead of following in the footsteps of everyday shoplifters, Gerald creates something a lot more sophisticated. He becomes a thief, of course, but around the thieving he builds a sophisticated system that enables him to achieve full retail price for everything he steals.
And he steals a lot. But when he gets stopped by the police with a carload of plunder, he has his defense ready and he gets clean away with it. Emboldened by his success, he progresses from carloads to trucks. Within weeks of launching his new career, he is, without doubt, the highest earning schoolboy in the entire Americas.
There is much in this documentary that seems far-fetched, but facts are backed by the many witnesses who share first-hand accounts of Gerald’s daring. These include the two boys he enlists to accompany him on his shoplifting sprees. Their young lives are forever changed by the skinny kid who is fearless, ingenious and who treats his interactions with the police as some kind of game.
He just doesn’t take the law seriously. And when he eventually gets arrested and deported to Canada, instead of regretting the folly of his ways, his activities escalate. But this renewed boldness attracts the attention of two Winnipeg detectives who spend the rest of their working lives in pursuit of the unfathomable criminal who’s causing global mayhem.
There are many intriguing aspects to this story, but the most fascinating of all is Gerald’s pervasive desire to dance with fate. There are times when, even though he can easily escape, he puts himself in harm’s way. And instead of enjoying his new jet-set life, he goads the very people who want to take away his freedom.
Gerald has a lot to say about his escapades but makes no comment on his compulsion to stare down the barrel of a gun. Perhaps that’s because it’s a flaw he doesn’t celebrate, or perhaps even the mastermind himself doesn’t know what keeps dragging him to the edge of the precipice.
The Jewel Thief
BRAZIL July 13, 2023 (internet)
UNITED STATES, July 13, 2023 (Hulu and Disney+)
SPAIN, July 13, 2023 (internet)