The Mystery of D.B. Cooper movie review (2020)

On November 24th, 1971, a man boarded a plane from Portland to Seattle, identifying himself as Dan Cooper. He told the flight attendant, who is interviewed in the film, that he had a bomb. He demanded the plane land and that he would exchange the passengers for four parachutes and $200,000. That’s what happened, and then the plane took off again with Cooper telling the pilots to fly him to Mexico City. Not long after, Cooper jumped from the plane, and was never seen again. Many years later, some of Cooper’s money was found far from where they thought he landed, but how and when it got there remained in question. Many investigators believed that Cooper probably died but the bulk of the money and his remains were never found. A legend was born.

Dower focuses on the details of the actual crime with people who were closed to it, intercut with theories about potential suspects. He starts with Jo Weber, the widow of a man named Duane Weber, who was undeniably a con man (a cache of fake IDs makes that pretty clear). Jo had no idea that Duane could have been a legendarily wanted man until he reportedly told her on his deathbed, “I’m Dan Cooper.” The declaration led Jo down a rabbit hole of her own memories, and she’s convinced—with the somewhat suspicious help of a Cooper expert who calls himself her “memory man”—that she was married to D.B. Cooper. She has been one of the most vocal people about the case, appearing on talk shows to reveal how close she was to the real D.B. Cooper, and she has an interesting story that relates to the discovery of the money on the beach.

Well, then what about Barbara Dayton? One of the most interesting theories has always been that D.B. Cooper was actually a woman dressed in drag. Barbara later became the first person in the state of Washington to receive sex assignment surgery, and most of the evidence against her centers on a supposed confession given to friends at an airfield. Was she telling them the truth or did everyone have a bit too much to drink that night?

And how about Marla Cooper (who even admits she uses to look a lot like Laura Palmer), who is certain that her uncle is the infamous criminal? Or maybe it’s the man arrested for what was considered a copycat hijacking? Could that have been Cooper himself trying to get it right the second time? By the time that Dower gets to a man who appears to have devoted his remote existence into studying the Cooper case, he’s raised more questions than answers. And maybe that’s the point. But most people with even the slightest familiarity with the D.B. Cooper case won’t learn enough here for the whodunit game to have any impact. Instead of painting a vision of obsession about this case, Dower seems content with relaying a few possible theories.

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