'The Lure': Film Review

This mundane doc is cinematic fool's gold.

Tomas Leach's documentary, executive produced by Errol Morris, profiles several people hunting for a $3 million treasure buried in the Rocky Mountains by an eccentric millionaire.

Imagine attempting to find a buried treasure left by an eccentric (is there any other kind?) millionaire. Sounds exciting, right? Such a search forms the heart of Tomas Leach's documentary, The Lure, which uses its central topic to explore the hopes and dreams that would lead otherwise normal people to pursue the quixotic quest. Unfortunately, the mundane film — executive produced by Errol Morris and receiving its world premiere at the DOC NYC festival — is not nearly as entertaining as it ought to be.

Fenn, a wealthy art dealer, decided to perpetrate his silly stunt in 2010 after surviving a cancer scare. So he supposedly buried some $3 million worth of gold and jewels in a small box somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, with only a cryptic poem providing clues as to its whereabouts. Since then, some 65,000 people have searched for the treasure in vain, with some, according to its prankish perpetrator, coming as close as 200 feet to it. Of course, we'll have to take Fenn's word for that. Meanwhile, he seems to take delight in his trickery, often communicating online with the hunters.

Fenn himself is dealt with only glancingly in the documentary. He seems mighty pleased with himself, although such comments as "We're all charlatans to some degree" don't inspire much confidence about his actions. For better or worse, he would have made a more interesting central subject than the disparate individuals that Leach profiles while they pursue their dream of striking it rich. They include a formerly wealthy computer programmer who threw his career away to become a struggling cowboy; a former policewoman who was forced to retire after being seriously injured on the job; and two young women who embark on the adventure on a lark, dreaming of becoming famous and appearing on television.

The filmmaker seems to think that there's important sociological insight to be gleaned from his subjects' disparate motivations, but in reality none of their stories are particularly interesting. It's certainly true that traipsing around the Rocky Mountains (beautifully captured in the widescreen photography), even for such an absurd reason, provides ample opportunity to savor the glories of nature. But the fact that some people have died or gone missing in the process inevitably takes some of the allure out of the story.   

Another filmmaker might have given this bizarre subject the more darkly comic treatment it deserves, instead of celebrating it as some sort of spiritual metaphor. And while watching The Lure should result in extreme reactions, whether outrage or gleefulness, it instead just leaves you shaking your head.     

Venue: DOC NYC
Production company: Moxie Pictures
Director-director of photography: Tomas Leach
Producer: Robert Fernandez
Executive producers: Errol Morris, Dan Levinson
Editor: Ben Stark
Composer: Calexico

Not rated, 77 minutes