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TJFF: Chasing Madoff

Chasing Madoff

Directed by Jeff Prosserman

2011, USA/Canada, 90 mins.

Here are three facts that, taken together, recommend this film. One: Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme bilked investors to the tune of billions. Two: in 1999, it took trader Harry Markopolos about five minutes to uncover the fraud and begin reporting Madoff to the Security and Exchange Commission. Three: the SEC did nothing, and Madoff was not arrested until 2008.

Madoff Rex

This is a film about Harry Markopolos more than it is a film about Madoff. It is the documentary equivalent of a thriller, made resonant by truth. Markopolos and his team, Frank Casey and Neil Chelo, don’t set out prove a fraud – rather, they stumble into it after trying to compete with Madoff and realizing that his profits are impossible. It is these three men – though primarily Markopolos – who tell the story, which director Jeff Prosserman edits together at a quick clip.

The interviews are intercut with news footage, congressional testimony with the SEC, and some words from individual investors bereft of their life savings by Madoff. The resulting film is something like a detective film meets Oedipus Rex – we know how this ends, and even though we expect tragedy, Prosserman’s storytelling injects a tremendous sense of anxiety into the film.

Money Never Sleeps

If the object of Chasing Madoff is to foster a two-pronged sense of outrage – at Madoff himself, for the sheer enormity of his crimes, and at the SEC, for relentless ineptitude – then the film must surely be judged a success. Markopolos, Casey, and Chelo are especially skilled at putting the financial story into layman’s terms and at drawing analogies to illustrate their point.

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Yet Chasing Madoff is about more. Why would trader Harry Markopolos devote ten years of his life to bringing down Bernie Madoff? Markopolos has a great deal to tell us on that subject, adds context to the film by expounding on the nature of Wall Street and the implications of the Madoff fraud. That said, his paranoia is laid on a bit thick by Prosserman – we don’t need to hear an out of place blast when Markopolos mentions car bombs.

Chasing Madoff is a film related to Inside Job or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room in that they are essentially films about hubris and failure at our expense. If there is a case for regulatory reform to be made, Chasing Madoff is it.

–       Dave Robson

Toronto Jewish Film Festival is playing from May 7th through May 15th. Tickets may be purchased online, by phone, or in person. More information is available on their website.