The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring (2023) 2023 / A better interrogation of our innate obsession with fame than a juicy tell-all


As a psychological profile of its subject, this documentary about the so-called “mastermind” behind the Bling Ring burglaries isn’t as rigorous as it should be — but as a portrait of that hyper-materialistic era and our never-ending obsession with fame, it fares much better. Rachel Lee was identified as the “ringleader” of the teenagers’ crime spree by some of her accomplices but had never spoken in public until this documentary. That suggests a juicy exposé; in line with this impression, Lee initially presents as starkly self-aware. However, our trust in her ability to give us a truly honest account soon crumbles as she lists off rather weak reasons for her crimes: her middle-class upbringing and parental divorce (though her teenage experiences with drug abuse are more plausible explanations).

Though the film points out the logical flaws and inaccuracies in Lee’s account, it never really takes her to task for them, compromising the rest of her contributions. What is more incisive is its treatment of ancillary figures in the scandal (a fame-obsessed investigating officer and a Bling Ring victim-influencer) — examples which, coupled with the doc’s examination of the flashy excess of the ‘00s, lay out a much clearer picture of the kids’ motivations than much of what Lee offers.

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