‘Lying and Stealing’ follows a string of art heists by a prolific thief who, for all his confidence and clandestine skills, works for a slimy crime fixer. The art robberies in the film blend the wealthy, high society world that the protagonist steals from with the seedy crime world where he sells the stolen pieces. The ingenious methods used by the skilled thief also add to the film’s entertainment factor as we see him overcome all kinds of security measures with relative ease. There have been some spectacularly notorious art heists in history that have left the world stunned. Could this movie, too, be based on a similar robbery that actually happened? Let’s take a look at whether ‘Lying and Stealing’ is based on a true story or not.
Is Lying and Stealing Based on a True Story?
No, ‘Lying and Stealing’ is not based on a true story. The depiction of famous art pieces, as well as the quote by famous bank robber Willie Sutton that the film’s protagonist keeps repeating, gives the impression of the film being based on reality. However, it is a work of fiction that is co-written by the director Matt Aselton along with Adam Nagata. Incidentally, this is the second film that Aselton and Nagata have co-written, the first being the off-beat comedy ‘Gigantic.’
The idea for the movie was inspired by famous art heists that Aselton read about, which involved the thieves making off with art pieces of astounding value. One such heist was the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, which occurred on March 18, 1990. In a matter of hours, two men managed to subdue the museum’s guards and make off with thirteen works of art, including pieces by Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer, amongst others. The FBI estimated the value of the stolen art to be a whopping $500 million, and none of the works have been recovered to this day. Such compelling instances, which almost seem stranger than fiction but are nevertheless true, heavily influenced the movie’s director.
Another aspect of the film — the fact that there are so many priceless art pieces scattered around at wealthy parties where the attendees are too engrossed in drinking and socializing to notice anything suspicious — was also based on Aselton’s experiences of parties in Los Angeles that he attended. Unsuspecting wealthy art collectors thus became the focus and provided the perfect fishing grounds for the heist mastermind in the film.
The film’s authenticity is greatly boosted by the fact that the art it features is based on actual pieces of art that exist, including the notorious self-portrait by Adolf Hitler, which Ivan is tasked with stealing. Other artists whose works are mentioned in the film include Philip Guston, Edgar Degas, Alberto Giacometti, and Amedeo Modigliani, who is one of the most counterfeited artists in the world. The distinctive chrome rabbit seen at the beginning of the film is also a copy of a real art sculpture titled ‘Rabbit’ by Jeff Koons, which became the most expensive art piece by a living artist ever to be auctioned when it was sold for $91 million in 2019.
‘Lying and Stealing,’ despite its name, is an honest homage to the legendary art heists that inspired the director. This might also explain why the film’s protagonist Ivan has an almost Robin Hood-like aura as he steals art from the wealthy in an attempt to cover his father’s debt. The film, which is a work of fiction, nevertheless sets up a realistic premise partly based on high society parties that the director has attended where numerous expensive art pieces are displayed amid lax security.
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