Delving into the case of a man who took an American passenger plane hostage before parachuting to freedom, The Mystery of D.B. Cooper examines not just the unsolved mystery itself but our enduring fascination with it.
Given we’re currently living through the Golden Age of true crime documentaries, it’s rare that a case as unusual as that of D.B. Cooper should be sitting there, ripe for exploration. John Dower’s documentary feature The Mystery of D.B. Cooper looks at the fantastical true story of a man who in 1971 hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft while flying over the US, extorting some $200,000 USD in ransom – around $1.26M USD today with inflation – before parachuting to freedom. In an era where airline hijackings were bizarrely more commonplace than one would think, the D.B. Cooper story captured the hearts and minds of Americans for over forty years. In part, because the fate of the hijacker was never known.
Whether he survived the descent has always been up for debate and the extensive manhunt and multi-decade FBI investigation turned up no conclusive answers. Like its true crime predecessors O.J: Made In America, The Jinx and Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer, the crime itself is only the entry point for the wider themes touched on in the documentary. Yes, it dives into the only unsolved case of air piracy in commercial aviation history with a combination of beautifully shot recreations and in-depth archive material. Yet it also spends just as much time with the characters convinced they know – and knew – who the real D.B. Cooper was. And it’s characters plural because there are several sets of subjects all with a wealth of evidence – some convincing, some circumstantial at best – about the identity of the mysterious hijacker.
It’s testament to Dower’s direction that the pivot to examining the people fascinated with the D.B. Cooper case rather than focusing on D.B. Cooper himself feels natural. The audience is guided there as seamlessly as the filmmaking team seem to be during production. A largely victimless crime, The Mystery of D.B. Cooper doesn’t come with the grim weight of other films in the genre and instead feels more like a curious snapshot into American life, then and now.
– Maria Lewis, Assistant Curator, Film
READ: Nearly 50 Years Later, the Mystery of D.B. Cooper Remains an Obsession
Julie Miller, Vanity Fair, Dec 2020
READ: The Hijacker Who Vanished: The Mystery of DB Cooper review – a real-life Twin Peaks
Rebecca Nicholson, The Guardian, Nov 2020
READ: June 23, 1972: 'You're not going to believe this:' a bizarre hijacking at Lambert
Tim O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jun 2020
Sun 7 Mar 2021
See below for additional related events
Occasional coarse language