2020 Tribeca Film Festival: Among the least interesting things about the artist known as Banksy is the mystery of their identity. Unfortunately, the documentary “Banksy Most Wanted” is almost entirely concerned with this, to the detriment of entire subject. Anyone with an interest in Banksy will likely already know just about everything put forward here, while someone hoping to get a crash course in the artist will be sorely disappointed. It’s a doc hoping to close the book on the mysterious figure, as opposed to painting a picture of why they’re so important/interesting. That miscalculation ultimately prevents it from becoming a satisfying experience.
A far cry from “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and its award-worthy ways, “Banksy Most Wanted” has only sporadic moments of life. When it hits on a tidbit that’s truly engaging, things spring to life. Unfortunately, it all too quickly devolves back into identity speculation. Talking head after talking head chime in with things to say about Banksy, but not much of it is particularly interesting. Mostly, it’s just a repetition of what we already know.
The documentary looks at the reclusive artist Banksy, with a focus on who he or she really is. At the start, however, there’s a perfunctory history lesson, getting audiences up to date on the legend. From there, we watch as this unusual artist becomes a figure of great repute. Some notable installations are showcased, in particular, the 2018 auction at Sotheby’s, where an original print was sold for $1.4 million, followed moments after the sale by the art being shredded inside of the frame. That moment cemented Banksy as a rebel, something the film worships, but never comes to close to explaining.
As Banksy continues to generate a cult-like air, the doc transitions towards seeking out the person’s identity. A number of potential candidates are mentioned, some more suspected than others. In the end, however, it remains a mystery, and sadly that comes at the expense of trying to unravel why this particular artist does what they do, in the manner that they do it.
Filmmakers Seamus Haley, Laurent Richard, and Aurélia Rouvier have an obsession here that shortchanges their project. The very basic presentation here doesn’t jive with the artist’s style. As they detail Banksy’s evolution, the film itself never does. There’s merely talking heads talking about the artist, images of the actual art, and little more. Haley, Richard, and Rouvier find their momentum when detailing the individuals they think may actually be the recluse, but it’s the least informative part of the tale. Especially without any sort of a resolution, it’s a lingering thread that frustrates, more than anything else.
This “sort of” story deserves a distinct visual sense, or at least an intriguing take. “Banksy Most Wanted” has neither. The movie is yearning for the actual presence of Banksy. That absence looms large, ultimately leaving most questions unanswered. There’s a compelling moment where it’s suggested that the creative’s work is only paid attention to and regarded as socially important because the messenger is unknown. That rings true but also lends more credence to the overall misguided focus of the doc.
“Banksy Most Wanted” could have been riveting. A documentary about Banksy, sprinkling in some investigation into the artist’s identity, had tons of potential. Unfortunately, leaning so hard into the quest to unmask him/her wound up shortchanging much of the potential. What we’re left with is a doc that engages only in fits and starts. Even with the limited Tribeca 2020 slate available, audiences deserve better.