Harry Markopolos was treated like the boy who cried wolf. “Except there was a wolf,” he reminds us time and again in Chasing Madoff, a mind-numbingly redundant and appallingly directed documentary by Jeff Prosserman.
The “wolf” in question was of course one Bernie Madoff, perpetrator of a $50 billion Ponzi scheme that wiped out thousands of people’s life savings. Markopolos is the money manager who spent damn near a decade trying to warn the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as The Wall Street Journal, that their golden boy was a fraud. In retrospect, Harry’s conclusions feel like simple common sense. Noting that if Madoff was a major league ballplayer he’d be batting .900, and if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. But as is obvious from our last few years of financial meltdowns, nobody wants to ask tough questions when the money is rolling in.
There’s enough material for a terrific film here, but Chasing Madoff sure isn’t it. Working from Markopolos’ book, No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller, director Prossserman doesn’t demonstrate much interest in the Madoff case itself, spending precious little screen time attempting to uncover how or why Bernie got away with it. Instead, the picture relies mostly on talking head interviews with Markopolos, and lots of extraordinarily ill-advised re-enactments in which the whistleblower plays himself, fearing for his life.
Perhaps Markopolos was right to be paranoid. It is probably unwise to make enemies of folks swindling billions of dollars. Problem is, most of Chasing Madoff is trumped up with crazy overblown visuals of our panicking money man buying a gun, trying on a bullet proof vest and spending the better part of 10 years insisting to anyone who would listen that he was about to be killed at any moment. Missing the delicious irony that for all his worry, Harry was simply ignored—the filmmaker instead persists with all sorts of jittery nonsense. Prosserman lays on cacophonous sound effects, a quivering shaky-cam and a score riddled with nonstop bleating flutes. Eventually it starts to feel like a parody of an Errol Morris film.