Review: ‘This Is Not a Robbery’

The weird history of the world's oldest bank robber gets full camp treatment with animated cartoon-strips and frisky hand-lettered picture-captions in "This Is Not a Robbery."

The weird history of the world’s oldest bank robber gets full camp treatment with animated cartoon-strips and frisky hand-lettered picture-captions in “This Is Not a Robbery.” Docu illustrates the late J.L. Rountree’s evolution from successful businessman to 90-year-old serial bank robber. Happy to let the quirky human-interest story speak for itself, filmmakers Lucas Jansen and Adam Kurland don’t seek a wider context, leaving viewers with an incomplete understanding of Rountree. Nevertheless, fun graphics, multiple conversation-starters and a dead folk-antihero make for a very salable commodity. Pic might nab limited theatrical release before healthy ancillary play.

Remarkably, considering the age of their subject, Jansen and Kurland find many of Rountree’s friends and neighbors (or offspring of friends and neighbors) to help fill in the blanks, their anecdotes studded with inevitable “who woudda thunk!” incredulity or, in some cases, belated compre hension. Judges, lawyers and an ex-bank teller offer their takes on his career as an outlaw.

Originally an extremely successful businessman, Rountree and his wife of 50 years wined, dined and spent lavishly. When the bank foreclosed on a shipyard venture, though, Rountree was forced into bankruptcy.

The double blow of the deaths of his wife and his beloved stepson knocked J.L. off the straight and narrow. He began frequenting bars, becoming a pot-smoking, pony-tailed septua genarian lover of a drug-addicted prostitute some 40 years his junior. Filmmakers even found the lady in question for a not particularly illuminating interview.

Then, in his 80s, Rountree began attempting bank heists, armed only with an envelope inscribed “Robbery,” and actually got away with robbing single tellers in small banks. He robbed at least three banks and was caught and was thrown in jail twice. It is unclear how many robberies in all he committed. He claimed to have robbed more than three, but that has not been substantiated.

Filmmakers, rely ing solely on second-hand sources, stray news spots and an audio interview taped a year before his death, gather differing explanations as to why Rountree started to rob banks: perhaps for the rush or due to his hatred of banks.

Since Rountree’s crime spree kicked off after the S&L debacle, perhaps that influenced his actions. However, the relationship between foreclosures and bank robberies that dates back to Jesse James and the Civil War as well as the Bonnies and Clydes of the Great Depression is barely mentioned here.

Rountree may not be worthy of folk hero status, but it would seem that the connection between his decision to become a bank robber and his disenchantment with the way banks treat people should not be overlooked just because of his age. To ignore this motivation seems counterproductive in a docu that claims to be seeking the whys of the old fogy’s misdeeds.Tech credits are pro.

This Is Not a Robbery


An Andrew Lauren production in association with Red Marker Films. Produced by Lauren, David D'Alessio, Lucas Jansen, Adam Kurland. Executive producers, P. Jennifer Dana, Jeffrey Fierson. Co-executive producer, Chad Kurland. Directed by Lucas Jansen, Adam Kurland. Co-director, Spencer Vrooman.


Camera (color, HD), Kurland; editors, Jamie Gross, David Egan; music, Oliver Future; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; sound, Daniel Perlin; animation, Gary Breslin. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Discovery), April 30, 2008. Running time: 71 MIN.

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