The holiday season at Reno’s airport once included a prank call: “Paging D.B. Cooper.” While cell phone communications and occasional staff directives reduce the joke’s numbers, Cooper’s rise continues with two projects focused on a heist that still confounds law enforcement officials, who waited in vain for his 1971 flight to Reno. Sometimes called “Pirate of the Sky,” Cooper apparently jumped somewhere between Seattle and Reno with $200,000. Flashy, daring, and possibly successful, the heist quickly drew the attention of storytellers, moviemakers, and more pranksters. The makers of the new film
I Am DB Cooper provide a potential solution, though their main suspect seems as reliable as those Reno airport pages. A career criminal, Rodney Bonnifield spins a story of a fluke theft that never featured any serious planning, forcing him to leave the ransom cash in a forest. Bonnifield’s story and attention to detail convinced two bounty hunters to chase the money, in turn drawing the attention of filmmaker TJ Regan. Regan began his project as a documentary, with well-filmed interviews of key participants. Eventually, however, Regan needed more footage and shifted to scripted interviews and re-enactments. Some come off questionably, but Regan’s skillfully coordinated take on the skydiving escape looks pretty good for a low-budget film. As for believability, some aspects raise eyebrows, like reference to the singer Rita Coolidge performing at Tahoe’s Hard Rock Casino and taking a shine to the future Mr. Cooper. Ultimately, the movie does little more than add to the growing pile of Cooper memorabilia, relying on the lure an unsolved mystery.