Rather than give a clean rendering of how a fraud like Bernard Madoff's… (Julian van Mil / Cohen Media…)
What should have been a disturbing examination of a colossal financial crime in "Chasing Madoff" is instead a disturbed one.
Using an irritably distracting collage of hopped-up graphics, archival footage and faux-noir re-creations in black and white, director Jeff Prosserman's frenzied documentary focuses on the scandal's much-noted whistle-blower, a securities analyst named Harry Markopolos, who had been trying for 10 years — before Bernard Madoff's 2008 arrest — to let the world know Madoff's money-managing operation was a Ponzi scheme.
But rather than give a clean rendering of how a fraud like Madoff's works — the way Charles Ferguson memorably explained the financial crisis in "Inside Job" — Prosserman creates a hollow Errol Morris-stylized "thriller" construct with a self-congratulatory, paranoid Markopolos and his fellow investigators at its center, and a laughable "they're out to get me" vibe. (There's a gangster film's worth of flashy montages of old mob-killing photos, dripping blood and Markopolos cocking guns, even though no evidence of Markopolos ever being threatened emerges.)
The unintended take-away is that you can grasp why the Securities and Exchange Commission — terribly negligent though it was in investigating Madoff — might dismiss the claims of someone so theatrically odd.
It makes "Chasing Madoff" a missed opportunity as both informative reportage on a globally devastating deception and an objective portrait of a difficult man's lonely mission of truth.
"Chasing Madoff." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; and Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.