Billed as an essentially frustrating and fruitless pursuit of that infamous artful dodger Bernie Madoff for nearly a decade, Chasing Madoff is a kind of wag the dog elusive documentary. And one that feels more like an unintentional how to get away with crime training manual – and detection for that matter – than investigative filmmaking in progress.
Which is to say, that Jeff Prosserman’s Chasing Madoff likewise projects a wag the dog duality once removed. That is, the subject of the film in hot pursuit of Madoff while never quite catching up, as the director seems to be not actually doing any chasing of his own. But rather, passively tagging along or hanging around to stylistically accessorize the proceedings in dressed up bells and whistles reality noir.
The principle protagonist in question in Chasing Madoff is Harry Markopolos, a self-described Boston based securities analyst turned ‘vigilante investigator.’ Based on his NY Times bestseller ‘No One Would Listen,’ Chasing Madoff charts the securities sleuth’s persistent hunches about the subsequent convicted felon’s predatory stock portfolio Ponzi scams, that bilked investor victims to the tune of billions.
And not only was Markopolos ignored by dismissive, skeptical journalists and SEC officials, but he feared that his own life might be in danger as a whistleblower. Madoff’s possible financial ties to mob elements are insinuated, and Markopolos gets weapons training and checks his car’s undercarriage daily for bombs. And the dutiful dad sends his grade school kids off for karate lessons too.
The problem with the documentary, is that a narrative where the ending is clear right from the beginning, requires alternative sources of intrigue and suspense. And the filmmaker seems to have made the inadvisable choice of focusing on Markopolos and his mysterious posse of talking heads, instead of circling the wagons around the far more fascinating Madoff. Let’s face it, a plethora of self-absorbed, too much information details about Markopolos’ marriage, family life, pregnancies and what’s for dinner, pale in comparison and come off more as filler than revelations that this documentary begs for.
And while there are intimations of assorted sinister conflicts of interest – like Wall Street players not willing to risk their own careers or relationships with investors by turning whistleblowers themselves – those more worthy topics for inquiry barely skim the surface. And as for Markopolos, when ‘No One Would Listen’ way back when, why didn’t he turn to filmmakers like Prosserman in the first place?
Cohen Media Group
2 1/2 stars