Based on an unlikely and incredible true story, Museum is a film with a mountain of ideas and things to say that sometimes finds itself swamped by its own ambition. Following Juan (Gael García Bernal), a bored student in 1980s Mexico, as he steals and attempts to fence over 100 priceless Mayan artefacts from an anthropology museum, it’s fun but muddled.
Motivated simply by the listless upper-middle-class curse of feeling your life is not special enough, Juan and his accomplice Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris) prove to be adept thieves. The heist itself is a ton of fun, Juan and Wilson using ingenious improvised burglary tools to make it past security. It’s got all the joys of any slick well-planned movie robbery, and a couple of interesting stylistic tricks all its own.
After Juan and Wilson have secured the loot, Museum finds itself on shakier ground, trying to balance family drama, a fracturing friendship, and a discussion of who truly owns physical pieces of history. Its tone is all over the place, catapulting from deadly serious to farcical in a jarring manner – and it’s just as scattered stylistically.
Museum is rarely less than entertaining, though, and writer-director Antonio Ruizpalacios’ script is often funny. Bernal is, of course, completely charming in the lead as he journeys from layabout student to nationally infamous criminal, and Ortizgris provides able support. As an international art and antiquities dealer, Simon Russell Beale raises a hearty smile with his very presence, and it’s fitting that this wealthy Englishman should come so close to stealing the whole film.
Ruizpalacios loses his way towards the end with a bizarre interlude involving Juan encountering his favourite porn star for a night of booze and cocaine on the beach. It’s a sour note in an otherwise highly watchable hybrid of a film.
CAST: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Simon Russell Beale, Alfredo Castro
DIRECTOR: Antonio Ruizpalacios
WRITERS: Antonio Ruizpalacios, Manuel Alcala
SYNOPSIS: In 1985, a group of criminals mock the security of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City to extract 140 pre-Hispanic pieces from their showcases.