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Darrel Ross & two locals in Austria (Photo: Film Sales Company)

Directed by
Darius Marder
Produced by
Marder & Dan Campbell
Released by Film Sales Company
USA. 86 min. Not rated

Looking for treatsure, Lance Larson is first seen sinking thousands of dollars of high-tech equipment into a deep, watery hole in the Philippines. An entrepreneurial inventor and car salesman, he is a charming and determined fortune hunter. He frequently leaves his wife and four kids in Utah to doggedly follow a couple of old coots’ war stories of valuables they stole as teenage soldiers just before the end of World War II.

He befriends the nearly blind Darrel Ross, who tells him of the bombed jewelry store he and a fellow soldier robbed as the Allies stormed through Munich onto Austria. Despite a cryptic warning from Darrel’s buddy to forget about it, Lance presses Darrel to remember the location of the house where he hid the loot when he realized he couldn’t take it with them. With Darrel unable to see maps, Lance has to coax him to comb through his memories for landmarks and locations.

And his is not the only memory Lance is plumbing. His brother has given him a lead to Andrew Seventy, who has been talking about the samurai sword he obtained under vague circumstances from a Japanese soldier in the Philippines and later hid. Andrew’s living in Arizona, almost entombed in his collections of odd objects (including the kind of novelty items that earn Lance the money to pursue his obsession). Unlike Darrel, Andy says he drew a map of where he buried his treasure—but he can’t find where he put it.

Lance is both voluble and relentless in getting the old men to trust him, but even he is surprised at how well he connects to them, and the father/son dynamics start to overlay the searches. Eerily, both veterans suffered the loss of their sons, who died at the same age their fathers went off to war (also the same age as Lance’s oldest, troubled son). Lance reveals that his father, too, was a frequently absent fortune hunter.

Very gradually, with exquisitely patient as-it-happens direction by Darius Marder, the stories of how the treasures were obtained and hidden play out on camera, and are inextricably intertwined with the horrors of war as experienced by young soldiers far away from home. Through the old men’s anguish, we are transported back to the point where the Army’s propaganda about the inhuman German and Japanese enemy is matched by the atrocities the soldiers’ witnessed, an intersection that most veterans, then and now, would prefer to keep as hidden as the loot.

For Andy, a confession he makes on camera may finally allow him to die in piece. For Darrel, his cathartic release happens in a return to the Austrian village that spurs an almost unbelievable Rashomon-like remembrance of the chaotic end of the war for civilians and ex-soldiers—it is all the more extraordinary for taking place by chance. Even Lance realizes there is something bigger than money, and he goes home to reconnect with his son.

Loot movingly brings forth insights that can usually only be captured through fiction, like David O. Russell‘s Three Kings, which also started out as a story of greed during the fog of war and ended up focusing on human behavior in extreme circumstances. Much more effective about unvarnished truths than Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys’s didactic The Good Soldier, this film is a startling demonstration that the memories of old soldiers never die, and, even after 60 years, don’t fade away. Nora Lee Mandel
December 4, 2009



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