Ruben Brandt, Collector is the animated feature film debut from Slovenian-born writer/director Milorad Krstić. It’s an homage to all the best of noir. It’s a brilliant love letter to the cinema and art of the 20th century. A heist thriller that kicks off with an action-packed “meet-cute” between a PI and jewelry thief that sets the tone and leans into the fantastical with unmatched flair.
*This is one of the few times I refuse to use the studio summary because it just takes all the fun out of letting this story unfold onscreen…
Synopsis: Ruben Brandt, a famous psychotherapist, who treats a very particular type of client. Extremely talented thieves with a creative bent and a psychological problem interfering with their work. Ruben uses creative techniques and therapies to uncover the issue(s) and confront them.
But Ruben himself is battling with night terrors and waking dreams in which images from world-renowned works of art brutally attack him. He’s potentially a nightmare away from unknowingly harming himself…fatally. Once his current patients discover his secret, they encourage him to apply his own therapy techniques to the problem. They steal the painting from his dream and bring it to him so he can confront his fear head-on.
When it works, Ruben decides the only thing to do is collect all 13 paintings plaguing his sleep. Ably assisted by his patients, Ruben soon becomes notorious. The press label the art thief raiding the Louvre, Tate, Uffizi, Hermitage, the Museum of Modern Art seemingly at will, The Collector.
As premises go, this one’s stands out first because done as a feature-length animated film, and second, because it seamlessly blends multiple influences from cinema and great works of art into a masterfully told story. It’s a mystery, a flirtation, and an incomparable adventure you won’t regret taking. This globetrotting adventure made me want to renew my passport, plan a trip and circle the world. But for all the overwhelming history, the story never took itself to seriously. It’s a twisted tale with a dark underbelly but one that takes pleasure in its own fantasy world and invites viewers to do the same.
Frantic to recover the stolen art, a conglomerate of insurance companies hire Mike Kowalski, a private detective and leading expert on art theft, to solve the “Collector Case.” It’s not too long before Kowalski realizes he’s crossed paths with at least one member of this ring of thieves. This side story occasionally gets muddy and pulls from the main story arc distractingly. It does, however, open the door for non-linear character development that does wonders for the noir storytelling elements.
Krstić builds a layered story that circles back on itself more than once as events unfold. The pace and plot-progressing get a little chaotic through the second act but the score and unexpected witticisms and humor keep things from going off the rails irrevocably. The mystery keeps unraveling and the danger mounting with each heist…
Because The Collector’s caught the attention of a crime syndicate intent on capturing him for the reward. And just to keep anyone watching from becoming complacent, Krstić throws a few more curveballs into the narrative that end in a trail of bodies. It’s an immersive experience that will have you making predictions ahead of each reveal and feeling smug if you’ve guessed correctly. I’ll say now there are red herrings (and few disturbing as fuck fever dreams) that keep things interesting along the way.
Cinephiles, art lovers and regular movie-goers alike will enjoy the ridiculous amount of easter eggs this film serves up (just see how many times you a PMJ song playing). This is a unique experience that may prompt you to do a little introspection about your own managed obsessions (no, this is not where we talk about my inability to not collect books thank you) and whether it’s time to figure out what’s going on beneath the surface. And naturally, you’ll want to find out if The Collector and his ring of thieves make a clean getaway in the end.
Ruben Brandt, Collector is brash, bold, and unapologetically esoteric. It’s a visual guide to art and cinema of the 20th-century you’ll be happy you experienced. Pablo Picasso, Gatsby, and Hitchcock would be proud.