A documentary by Jeff Prosserman. Rating not available. Opens Friday, September 23, at the Denman Place Cinema
Loaded with real-life ironies and more special effects than your average vampire movie (a fairly apt analogy), Chasing Madoff is a frustrating watch because it overdresses material that would be fascinating no matter how you sliced it.
Directed by Canadian Jeff Prosserman, adapting a book written by his main protagonist, the documentary centres on the ungainly, flat-voiced Harry Markopolos’s recitation of events that started in 1999. Back then, he was asked to analyze the Madoff system so his boss at the time—silver-haired Boston fund manager Jack Casey—could compete with the insanely happy-making returns coming from his mysterious New York competitor, Bernard Madoff.
Apparently, it took Harry less than five minutes to deduce that these numbers truly were too good to be true, and after checking the math with go-getter assistant Neil Chelo, he went to the Securities and Exchange Commission—the federal agency charged with regulating investors—and watched the SEC do less than nothing for almost a decade. Meanwhile, Bernie made off with billions from investors small and large ($50 billion, in the end), with numerous feeder funds bringing in enough new money to cover those close to the top of the pyramid until the whole thing collapsed. A congressional investigation started at the end of the Bush era has led to no new charges.
Markopolos’s whistle-blowing efforts fed an understandable, if rather theatrical, paranoia about his own safety—something he’s happy to reenact for Prosserman’s camera, which also seeks out every noisy Errol Morris Lite effect it can squeeze into 90 minutes; each casual mention of baseball, gambling, and the mob, for example, is accompanied by images of Babe Ruth, Seabiscuit, and Al Capone. With ominous string music churning in the background and epilepsy-inducing editing tricks in the foreground, the effect is that of an overresearched project that has forgotten its ostensible subject: the biggest rip-off artist in history. The movie intrigues, but it needed a bit more regulation.
Watch the trailer for Chasing Madoff.