Legends of the Pacific Northwest | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Legends of the Pacific Northwest

"I Am D.B. Cooper" tries to solve a mystery

If there's something we have plenty of in the majestic Pacific Northwest, it's urban legends and folklore. We're the birthplace of Sasquatch, the UFOs at Mount Rainier, The Bandage Man of Cannon Beach, and of course, D.B. Cooper. Obviously, D.B. Cooper is a bit different since he was a person who definitely existed and is not a cryptid, but the amount of speculation about what hap-pened to him after his brazen and death-defying robbery has filled dozens of books just the same.

Legends of the Pacific Northwest
Photos courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
How could modern day treasure hunting be so boring?

For the uninitiated, here are the basics: On Nov. 24, 1971, a man on board a flight from Portland to Seattle hijacked the plane with a supposed bomb in an attaché case. He demanded $200,000 in a knapsack, to be delivered to the plane once they landed in Seattle, as well as four parachutes. Once he had the money and parachutes, Cooper released the passengers and took off with a skeleton crew, headed to Reno as a refueling stop before eventually going to New Mexico. Cooper then parachuted out of the plane sometime before Reno, but the flight crew didn't notice that he wasn't on the plane anymore until after they landed. Later, modern technology that factored in wind currents created the popular theory that his drop zone was somewhere near the drainage area of the Washougal River, off the Columbia River. The crime remains the only unsolved case of air piracy in history.

Who D.B. Cooper was and what happened to him after he jumped from the plane is a thing of legend, with tons of speculation and dozens of suspects that have popped up over the last 50 years. The number of theories online is numbing and completely inconclusive, so I was excited to receive a screener for the new film, "I Am D.B. Cooper," a hybrid documentary/narrative that fills much of its running time with reenactments, while also following a pair of bail bondsman brothers and the weird old man they're convinced is D.B. Cooper.

After watching "I Am D.B. Cooper," I remain numb and unconvinced, and I'm also maybe a little mad at the marketing team behind the film. They're pushing the film as the definitive answer to the mystery of Cooper, but really all they have is another person claiming they're the mysterious hijacker. In all fairness, Rodney Lewis Bonnifield makes for an interesting subject and there are some fascinating circumstantial connections he has to the case, but the film is anything but a mind-blowing discovery of the real Cooper.

What really makes the movie hard to watch is the choices director T.J. Regan makes in telling the story. Half the movie is a 70s-style crime caper and the other half a documentary following Bonnifield and bail bondsmen Carlos and Mike Rocha as they try to vet Bonnifield's story, following him out to the Columbia River to find Cooper's buried money. Just typing that up makes the movie more awesome than it is, but Bonnifield isn't enjoyable to spend time with and the actor playing Cooper (Ryan Cory) is stuck with a character written like an irritating crackhead you don't want to be around. Honestly, the film would work much better if it was a documentary OR a recreation of the event, but as a bastardized hybrid of the two, it's aimless and schizophrenic.

What's also a bit sketchy is that the two bail bondsmen are actually Bonnifield's current bondsmen, since he's waiting to find out if he has to do jail time for stabbing a guy he claims is a pedophile. I almost wonder if they didn't have enough footage and story for the documentary, so they shot the reenactments to fill time. It feels like someone is definitely getting taken advantage of and that someone is actually everyone.

Bonnifield comes across as such an eccentric that instead of the film's steadfast obsession with D.B. Cooper, the movie could have broken down his many stories and been about how America criminalizes the mentally ill or something with a little more meat on its bones. Instead, we're left with half a documentary and half a period piece about D.B. Cooper and neither one really works. "I Am D.B. Cooper" doesn't solve any mysteries; it just raises questions about what the purpose of a documentary is supposed to be.

"I Am D.B. Cooper"
Dir. T.J. Regan
Grade: D
Now Streaming

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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