“Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street” allows experts and witnesses to tell the story, intercut with a few too many recreations for my taste, but this is admittedly dry material that Berlinger and his team try here to make more engaging. They wisely give a ton of time in interview segments to Diana B. Henriques, the author of The Wizard of Lies, who clearly knows this story like the back of her hand. She knows how to give viewers all the necessary details without making it feel like homework. Premiere on 4th January 2023, here is a detailed review of this movie.
1. What is MADOFF: The Monster of Wall Street about?
Bernie Madoff started with penny stocks in the ‘60s, building a company that would become Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. As his company grew, Madoff added incredibly high-profile clients to his roster, often traveling the world to seduce the wealthy into allowing him to invest their money. The problem? He wasn’t investing in it, at all. Many fraudsters use their schemes to hide poor investment strategies, but Madoff was bolder, literally taking money from Peter to pay Paul and not putting a dime in the actual market. Some of the anecdotes about how they would pull this off are stunning, including using the stock data from the day before on statements and manhandling printouts when the authorities came to see them so they didn’t look freshly printed. At one point, a hot document off a line printer was put in the fridge for a few minutes so it wouldn’t be so new. It’s jaw-dropping and reveals how Bernie didn’t do any of this alone. It would be impossible for him to do so.
She’s also, like most of the people involved, righteously angry at a system that failed on so many levels. The number of times that Madoff should have been caught is ludicrous—it sometimes felt like he was committing crimes in plain sight—and the government ignored the whistleblowers who tried to take him down. The final chapter of this four-episode series focuses on the heartbreaking fallout, including not only what it did to the Madoff family tree but the many investors, including the successful ones who had withdrawn money that the government attempted to reclaim. “Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street” becomes a cautionary tale, reminding us that criminal greed doesn’t always hide in the shadows. Sometimes it’s right in front of a spotlight so bright that it blinds those in charge of stopping it.
It’s certainly not violence that makes the Madoff story magnetic, although the death toll does begin to resemble the post-heist body count in “Goodfellas” after Madoff’s nearly $65 billion rip-off goes belly up in 2008. Our native fascination with tragedy and skullduggery is made even more irresistible by the idea of an empathy-free human, one who could live such an enormous lie for so long, victims be damned, while presumably still sleeping at night. Those of us who can’t balance our bank accounts are a little in awe of someone who could juggle money and numbers, fictitious or otherwise, the way Madoff did, while living the lifestyle Madoff did, with so little perceptible concern or remorse: One of the novel attractions of Mr. Berlinger’s production is its use of clips from Madoff’s video depositions, which were given during victim lawsuits in 2016 and ’17. Madoff, who died in 2021, is very matter-of-fact about the crimes he committed, dispassionate, even clinical.
Related: What Did Bernie Madoff Do To Build Ponzi Scheme? Simple Explanation
2. Stream or Skip? MADOFF: The Monster of Wall Street review
Among Mr. Berlinger’s accomplishments in “The Monster of Wall Street” is not making the Madoff story remotely romantic, or even a parable, while at the same time putting blood in its veins. This he does partly by having actors play the lead characters in re-creations while giving them no lines; they exist in a gauzy, icy space, a kind of dream state, especially if the dream involves someone standing on a precipice. The words we hear are all from the mouths of the Madoff employees, authors, journalists and bankers, who were either bit players in the illicit enterprise, studied and wrote about it afterward or tried to derail it mid-scam—Harry Markopolos, for instance, who was a portfolio manager for Boston-based Rampart Investment Management when he was asked to devise something to compete with Madoff’s stock strategies, which seemingly never lost money. As Mr. Markopolos tried to tell his employer—and the Securities and Exchange Commission, five times over the next 10 years—Madoff’s “strategy” was nonexistent. The Markopolos conclusions, arrived at in minutes, made no impression on anyone.
The Madoff scheme “was not a complex fraud,” says forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky. “It involved simply taking people’s money [and] telling them he was going to invest their money. And he never did.” For years no one caught on, or so it seemed. Among the major points Mr. Berlinger makes accessible and unavoidable is that the Madoff operation should have been—and very likely was—detected as a crime-in-progress years before it was dragged naked into the daylight by the 2008 financial crisis (a point at which Madoff could no longer call on his biggest investors for cash to cover his shortfall). Mr. Markopolos was the most insistent of Madoff debunkers. But when journalist Erin Arvedlund (“Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff”) wrote about him for Barron’s in 2001, no one whom she spoke to on the trading floors of New York recalled ever having made a trade with Bernie Madoff. That some parties avoided him entirely—Goldman Sachs and Salomon Brothers among them—might have been a tipoff.
Source: Netflix Life
That Madoff is referred to as a “scapegoat” for the financial crisis of ’08 is ironic, given how deeply Mr. Berlinger digs into the ethnic angle of the Madoff scam. He even interviews the Palm Beach rabbi Leonid Feldman, who weighs in on how Madoff used his membership at the Palm Beach Country Club to target trusting fellow Jews as investors, one of the uglier aspects of the Madoff tale.
“The Monster of Wall Street” will be, to no one’s surprise, a complex series and downbeat story, but one that is told with enormous style and narrative energy. There are quite a few likably chagrined people among the cast—those who worked in the Madoff offices at the “lipstick building” on Third Avenue in Manhattan. Several who weigh in have written what amounts to the historical record on Madoff, including Jim Campbell (“Madoff Talks”) and Diana Henriques (“Wizard of Lies”). Then there’s Madoff himself: When you’re a success on Wall Street, he says in an archival clip, “Your word is your bond.” More laughably cynical words have seldom been spoken.
The subject of director Joe Berlinger’s captivating, penetrating, four-part “Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street” is described by one of its kinder voices as a “financial sociopath.” Later, someone just comes right out and calls him a “serial killer.” All of which may help explain our persistent obsession with the man who perpetrated the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. After so many productions, dramatic and documentary, shouldn’t we be tired of Bernie Madoff? One might as well ask if we’re tired of Charles Manson, or Jack the Ripper.
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