Review of The Monster of Wall Street Rating ****
Having seen this story covered by other documentaries and dramas, I wasn’t sure if this iteration was worth the time. After watching all four episodes, I can say that it was worth my time and yours, if for no other reason than the last episode. More on this later.
I’ve seen some criticism about this docuseries because of the use of dramatization. I didn’t have a problem with it. There are no recreated scenes with dialogue. Instead, they show scenes of actors portraying the very people being discussed in interviews and news reports. It’s a way of getting away from talking heads.
One thing that makes this series different from previous attempts is the viewer gets to hear directly from Madoff himself in video depositions. He describes how it all started and how it all came crashing down.
As tragic as this story is for the people who lost money, there is one undeniable hero in the story. Harry Markopolos worked for a competing hedge fund. When he was given the task of trying to reverse engineer Bernie’s success, he concluded that it was impossible to duplicate because Bernie’s results were based on fraud. Harry made numerous attempts over several years to alert the SEC of this ongoing fraud. In each instance, he was rebuffed. Even when he laid out every red flag that pointed toward a fraudulent operation, the SEC failed to investigate. When media pressure finally forced them to look into Bernie Madoff’s company, they did a cursory investigation, accepting Bernie’s word that everything was on the up and up. When the SEC investigation didn’t turn up any evidence of fraud, it gave legitimacy to what Bernie was doing and the fraud grew exponentially.
The one thing that really stands out in this docuseries is that they follow the story all the way to its bitter conclusions, providing updates on the main players and the attempts to compensate victims. Bernie had four big investors whom he relied on to keep the fraud going. The one person who benefitted the most from the fraud was Jeffry Picower. Here is a man who made withdrawals from Bernie’s fraudulent fund to the tune of some nine billion dollars. The total fraud was nineteen billion. I wanted to see what happened to this guy more than anyone else. This is where the last episode shines. There are suicides. There are early deaths. And then there is the mysterious death of Jeffry Picower in his home pool. As for the nine billion he siphoned from the fund. the trustee clawed back over seven billion dollars.
While the filmmakers show that the trustee was able to retrieve fourteen of the nineteen billion dollars lost, through clawbacks and the selling of assets, they weren’t clear on how that money was distributed to victims, except to say that the one person who may have benefited the most was the trustee who took one billion dollars in fees.