'Chasing Madoff' (unrated)
A potentially riveting documentary about the Bernie Madoff scandal buries its story beneath hollow style and flashy editing.
In the tacky, garish documentary Chasing Madoff, writer-director-producer Jeff Proserman recounts the efforts by three Boston investment bankers — particularly Harry Markopolos, whose book No One Would Listen served as the basis for the film – to blow the whistle on corrupt investment banker Bernie Madoff.
Madoff, who pleaded guilty in March 2009 to 11 federal charges of using billions of dollars invested by his clients to fund a massive Ponzi scheme, is serving a 150-year prison sentence. But for nearly a decade before his arrest, Markopolos and his two business associates were doing everything they could think of to get someone — the government, the news media, anybody — to pay attention to the flagrant corruption pulled off by Madoff and his business.
Using incredibly irritating, rapid-fire editing, CGI graphics and sometimes ridiculous re-enactments, Proserman lets Markopolos do the bulk of the talking — and the guy has no trouble filling up the time. Markopolos lays out the nature of Madoff’s scheme in accessible layman’s terms, and he explains how he and his partners repeatedly lobbied the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to pay attention to their charges for nearly a decade, but they could never earn a response. They tried blowing up the story in the financial press, but after an initial pair of reports broke, the mainstream media failed to take the bait and follow up on the charges.
The prevailing apathy of the financial industry is one reason Madoff was able to get away with what he did for so long. Another was a simple breakdown in government, with an agency repeatedly refusing to pay attention to where its nose was being pointed. The movie implies that refusal was either old-fashioned negligence or proof positive that Madoff’s influence extended into the White House.
The story is a fascinating one, but Proserman doesn’t trust it to carry the film. Instead, the director also uses Chasing Madoff to lionize Markopolos, who is shown in re-enacted segments checking his car for bombs, firing guns on the range or attending karate class with his two young sons. In the years after he had blown the whistle on Madoff but received nothing but silence from the government in response, Markopolos became certain he had been marked for death, and the movie cheerfully runs along with his paranoid tendencies, giving them heroic dimensions and context.
Chasing Madoff is as much a journalistic exposé of Madoff as it is a love letter to Markopolos, shot in the style of Natural Born Killers by a director terrified of boring his audience. In Proserman, the documentary genre finds its own Michael Bay.
With: Harry Markopolos, Frank Casey, Neil Chelo, Gaytri Kachroo, Michael Ocrant.
Director/writer/producer: Jeff Proserman.
A Cohen Media Group release. Running time: 91 minutes. Adult themes. Opens Friday Aug. 26 in Miami-Dade: Sunset Place; in Palm Beach: Cobb Gardens.