Thursday, April 06, 2023

Catching Lightning, on Showtime

How was MMA cage-fighter Lee “Lightning” Murray a lot like George Soros? They both nearly broke the Bank of England. At least Murray wasn’t trying to do so. His gang just stole a princely amount of cash from one of the BoE’s private currency depots, purely for the sake of the money. Yet, the takings and the resulting closure of the Securitas facility took so much cash out of the economy, it put a system-threatening strain on the BoE. In fact, it remains the largest cash robbery in British history and one still one of the world’s biggest hard currency heists ever. The irony-laden true-crime sports story unfolds in director Pat Kondelis’s four-part documentary, Catching Lightning, which starts streaming on Showtime tomorrow.

As Elia Kazan would say, Lee Murray could have been a contender. He was nicknamed Lightning because his fists were dangerously fast. He would have been the UFC’s first international breakout star were it not for his visa problems. Even Brazilian champion Anderson Silva speaks highly of his skills, as one of the docuseries’ onscreen commentators.

However, cage fighting was not Murray’s only line of work. He still served as an active member of the Buttmarsh Boys gang, which is how he came to know the shady characters involved in the Securitas depot robbery in quiet Kent, England. It was not a caper in the gentlemanly Raffles/
Rififi tradition. It involved the kidnapping of a shift-manager’s wife and young son as well as holding about a dozen depot employees at gunpoint, which is probably why Murray and his accomplices have yet to become folk heroes, like Murf the Surf.

Murray also is not super-available for interviews, but
Catching Lightning incorporates previously unheard prison recordings of Murray, wherein he tries to finally speak for himself. Do not make assumptions regarding those prison tapes, because the Kent police’s mission to bring Murray to justice took on some wild legal and jurisdictional twists.

A four-parter chronicling the Securitas heist might sound like overkill (especially since the concluding episode is well over one and a quarter hours long), but Kondelis and company make surprisingly economical use of viewers’ time. The first part establishes Murray’s rise and fall in the MMA world, including his notorious street brawl with then-champion Tito Ortiz. The second part provides a step-by-step account of the hostage-taking and robbery, the third follows the investigation, and the capper covers the prosecutions, which is probably where the greatest ironies come into play.

Very few of the robbers participated in anyway, unless you count the disembodied voice of Murray. However, we hear from his current wife (shrouded in shadows) and many of his MMA colleagues, including Silva, Chuck Lidell, Tony Fryklund, and Pat Miletich (wearing a Black Rifle Coffee Company t-shirt). We also hear from the police and Sir John Nutting, who took on the Securitas prosecution for his final case. As soon as you hear his commanding baritone, you know the accused were in serious trouble.

Kondelis nicely balances Murray’s story with the experiences of the depot workers, many of whom were undeniably traumatized. The events are presented from just about every perspective, except Murray’s accomplices, some of whom are still at large. If you do not already know the case chapter-and-verse, there will be several surprises—and there is also a fair amount of early UFC dish. Recommended for MMA and true crime fans,
Catching Lightning starts streaming tomorrow (4/7) and airs linearly Sunday (4/9) on Showtime.