The Lure


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The Lure is overlong and could do with some tightening up, but there's plenty to enjoy about it."

In 1988, so the story goes, a small chest of gold, worth at least a million dollars, was buried somewhere in the Rocky Mountains by art dealer Forrest Fenn. Stricken with cancer, Fenn did not expect to live much longer, and wanted to do something with his fortune. In effect, he created his own work of art. The book he wrote to provide eager treasure hunters with clues has brought in a fair bit of money itself, and several books have now been written by other people about the search for the treasure. This documentary sets out to explore the phenomenon and, inevitably, becomes part of it.

UK viewers may be reminded of Kit Williams' 1979 book Masquerade, which set up a similar (though less lucrative) challenge, with the treasure being found three years later by Dugald Thompson based partly on guesswork rather than a correct solution to the puzzle presented. Masquerade inspired a series of similar works, but Fenn's work, though it may have been inspired by the genre at large, seems to have older roots. It harks back to the legends that arose when Europeans were first travelling across the North American continent, and as such it carried the mythic weight of a civilisation in the early stages of inventing itself. Fenn, who won a greater prize in surviving his cancer and reaching old age, recalls that as a child he always dreamed of discovering treasure. Now he has brought that dream to life for others.

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It's the dream that is the reward, in the end, and the film has the sense to acknowledge this early on. Some of the treasure hunters whose stories it tells are keen on the monetary reward, but most have simply become obsessed with solving the puzzle - to the point where one says that if he ever found the treasure he would be tempted to hug it, lick it, take a selfie with it and then put it back. Others talk about how their quest has led them to discover the joy of being outside in the mountains, hiking and climbing. For one man, it's the driving force that keeps him active despite serious back problems and cancer.

There's a darker side, of course. Several people have gone missing whilst searching and one man has died. But the risk is part of the appeal. Two sisters who go searching together talk about how their husbands are convinced they'll be raped and murdered. Perhaps without the lure they'd have given in to that kind of thinking and stayed at home. Though we only hear a handful of stories here, an estimated 65,000 people have gone looking for the treasure.

Does it really exist? Has it secretly been found? Fenn says, tantalisingly, that he knows some people have been within 200 yards of it. He's an expert at providing ambiguous answers to emailed questions. Perhaps that's not surprising; he's been subject to various kinds of suspicion in the past. The film touches lightly on this, saying just enough to inspire caution, yet the idea of Fenn giving away money he clearly doesn't need remains credible, and it has clearly bought him a great deal. The bigger question, of course, is this: does it matter if the treasure is real or not? It's the belief in it that has been truly phenomenal.

The Lure is overlong and could do with some tightening up, but there's plenty to enjoy about it. Not only is the subject matter fascinating, there are lots of great personal stories here told by interesting people, presenting a side of America we don't often see onscreen. The Rocky Mountain scenery is endlessly beautiful. It will be surprising if this documentary doesn't inspire some viewers to go looking for the treasure themselves.

Editor's note: As of September 2017, when this film goes on general release in the UK, Forrest Fenn maintains that the treasure has not been found. Two more people are believed to have died searching for it.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2017
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The story of an eccentric millionaire's buried treasure and those who are searching for it.
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Director: Tomas Leach

Year: 2016

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: US, UK

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