Chasing Madoff Effectively Follows Confusing Investigation
Doc follows those who tried to bring Madoff down
As far as documentary films go, there are two types that audiences are accustomed to. There’s the “stunt documentary” sub-genre that has become popular in recent years with films like Super Size Me and a number of Michael Moore films, where an informative documentary is spruced up with humorous animations, slick graphics, or clever editing. Then there’s the “straight up” style of documentary, which is something that is more likely to be found screened in a classroom to restless sixth graders, or broadcast on TVO at 2:00AM.
Chasing Madoff, the documentary based on, as the tagline states, “unfortunately, a true story,” is a film that never really belongs to either of these documentary styles, yet somehow situates itself firmly in both. Whether this is a good or bad thing, you can find out in my review.
Chasing Madoff tells the story of Harry Markopolis, a man who spent the better part of four hours uncovering, with a little simple math and common sense, that Bernard Madoff was running the biggest ponzie scheme in history, followed by the better part of a decade trying to convince people of the same thing. Of course, as everyone should know the story by now, Madoff was caught in 2009, almost ten years after Markopolis had handed the Securities and Exchange Commission documented proof of what exactly Madoff was doing.
This story is weaved throughout the film as told by Markopolis and the men he was working with to bring Madoff down. Told in the straight up documentary style, interviews with Markopolis and others detail exactly what they had done to report Madoff, as well as the frustrations that came when nobody listened. Interspersed throughout this story are television clips and newspaper articles published about the investigation, clearly showing the audience, in case they didn’t know, just how big of a scheme our main character and protagonist, Harry Markopolis, was trying to unravel.
The film’s director, Jeff Prosserman creates a tight narrative that coherently follows a potentially confusing investigation, and allows the audience to not only understand the well-known Madoff scheme, but also the underlying scheming that was going on behind the scenes at the SEC and other organizations that allowed Madoff to remain uninvestigated and unpunished for almost a decade.
That’s the main story, and the building blocks that Chasing Madoff is built upon. However, the film then deviates from the “unfortunate true story” and delves into an unfortunately and potentially untrue story; the story of Henry Markopolis, and his behaviour during the investigation, of which many would consider to be borderline sociopathic and oftentimes downright hilarious.
This is where the stunt documentary filmmaking comes into play. At times during the film, our protagonist, Markopolis, will start spouting off paranoid delusions of how his life may or may not have been in jeopardy. Throughout the 90 minute running time of the film, Markopolis manages to convince himself, and perhaps some audience members, that he was only minutes away from being killed by not only Madoff and several shady international organizations, but also none other than the United States government. Markopolis’ accounts are aided by the oftentimes-jarring directions that the film takes, including sideways camera angles, a musical score not unlike Inception, and excessive use of loud sound effects and overly dramatic dramatizations.
Whether or not Prosserman bought into the paranoid rants of Markopolis, or was simply turning on the cinematic flare for dramatic purposes, is slightly unclear. However, with the amount of time devoted to Markopolis, vintage clips of guns and mob bosses, and dripping blood sequences, it would have been nice to see some proof of Markopolis’ being targeted. In the last few minutes of the film, Chasing Madoff returns to its roots and shows Bernie Madoff facing justice, and how Markopolis fit into the whole mess. Interviews with those affected by Madoff are a stirring reminder of the damage that he caused, and the immense flaws in the United States government when it came to bringing Madoff to justice in a timely manner.
As the stunt filmmaking gets dialed down, and Markopolis seems to get his life back, what’s left is a film about the biggest fraud case in history, and how it could have been stopped in it’s early stages had people not been so consumed by greed, stupidity, or even pure laziness.
While the film is certainly not without its flaws, it remains an important look back at recent history and the story behind the story that everyone knows.