In 2010, an eccentric New Mexico artifacts dealer named Forrest Fenn stowed a 10-by-10-inch chest filled with treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.
It was free, he proudly said, to whomever could find it. The only clues the octogenarian and cancer survivor provided were embedded in his memoir, "The Thrill of the Chase," which contained a vague poem that he says will guide seekers to the hidden bounty.
Depending on who you believe the treasure is still out there. Others say they've solved his riddle, but the gold was gone. Others say there might not be any treasure at all. Fenn, for his part, says that people have come within 500 feet of it.
A 2016 documentary, "The Lure," examines Fenn's challenge and the people who take it upon themselves to find it in a beautiful, searching manner. Tomas Leach's second feature documentary takes an impressionistic approach to a story that could easily be framed as reality television fodder. In a further sign of its pedigree, it was executive produced by Errol Morris, whose own writings and films question the nature of knowledge and truth.
The tone is established quickly, with gorgeous, slowly panning shots of uninterrupted wilderness accompanied by voice-overs of Fenn, a well-read man prone to musings like "imagination is more important than knowledge." He remains a mostly peripheral presence in the film: Leach instead joins a series of treasure hunters on their quixotic search for a treasure hidden somewhere in a mountain range that spans the entire country, from Montana to New Mexico.
Leach lands viewers directly into conversations with them and gradually reveals their reasons for pursuing what they logically know is likely a hopeless pursuit. For many, the research and the long hikes into the New Mexico wilds fills an existential need, in which the search itself is more important than the admittedly grim odds of success. They range from young mothers who get out camping sans friends and husbands, to people with illnesses who identify with the mortality underscoring Fenn's memoir. Leach's panning shots of forests and mountains underscore the idea that the experience is likely the reward, regardless of whether Fenn is a great American genius, a classic American huckster, or both. Crucial to the film's success, Leach doesn't fall into the online wormhole, where rabid fans decode clues and debunk theories. The chase is on, and he wants to know what that in and of itself means.
A computer-programmer turned rancher named David muses about how he left behind a well-paying but suffocating job in Southern California for a simpler life. Even his rustic days often seem too modern, he says. The hunt ties him to an older and harder time in the West, but one he feels has stronger moral and ethical bearings.
He's the rare treasure hunter who gets a meeting with Fenn. It's an awkward exchange, as the poker-faced Fenn carefully chooses his words, knowing that his every utterance is dissected for hints, which David visibly is. He asks David what he would do if he found it, a question David is torn by. He's not even sure he wants the treasure, he admits at one time. He seems to want to know that he could find it.