The story of the 2008 financial crash continues to fascinate creatives and filmmakers. In addition to a few HBO films on the subject, The Big Short became a Best Picture contender. Stories of American excess from Wall Street continue to grow in entertainment today. Billions, Succession, and Industry all traffic in similar content. Now, Netflix hopes to join in the fun by releasing a four-part docuseries on Wall Street’s most villainous man. With some context, Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street looks to contextualize Bernie Madoff‘s plans and failings. The financial true-crime documentary feels at home on Netflix by stretching the content too far, despite intriguing choices.
After the collapse of the housing market in 2008, Bernie Madoff’s investors came calling. His fund did not just operate obscene amounts of wealth, but it promised unthinkable returns. Operating over $18 billion in cash, it was unthinkable that his slush fund would disappear overnight. Yet it did. Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street starts with his humble beginnings in Queens, even examining his first acts of corruption. Depositions, Madoff’s admissions, and interviews with the journalists and victims of the story help piece together what happened. The Monster of Wall Street reconstructs the crime in vivid detail.
Documentarian Joe Berlinger takes painstaking detail to explain Madoff’s crimes. The idea of a Ponzi scheme is not just explained but thoroughly interrogated. How can a system built on lies exist without consequences for so long? The details from Berlinger and his team are simultaneously Madoff‘s best aspect and its downfall. It’s important that audiences understand what was being done. Still, it drags in part three, even as alarm bells begin going off on Wall Street. This issue becomes more apparent because it distracts from Madoff‘s most intriguing footage: the emotional stories of the victims
Before Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street, the crimes committed by Madoff’s hedge fund bank seemed to only harm wealthy Americans. Berlinger not only dispels that myth but lets the victims speak for themselves. This becomes the most intriguing part of the story. After all, how did this man swindle so many people? Not only were the rich and powerful affected, but people who counted on his returns to fund their retirement. These interviews are heartbreaking and remind us of the real people harmed by these crimes.
Berlinger reiterates how many men stood up about Madoff’s scheme. This again cuts both ways, making the corruption and rot at the heart of our institutions impossible to overcome. Still, one does wonder about their power if true regulation existed. Berlinger does his best to lay out how avoidable the Madoffs of the future should be.
Additionally, Berlinger creates unique reenactments, utilizing tracking shots to follow our investigators through the offices. Sadly, this stylistic flourish does little in the grand scheme. The biggest problem facing the Madoff docuseries is the four-episode structure. There is too much fat, but this seems to be the requisite length for Netflix series anymore. The power of the story weans when a brisker, more effective story could be delivered in two hours.
For anyone unfamiliar with Madoff or his deeds, this will provide a basic interrogation of the events. However, for those who watched Madoff come to justice, there’s no new information to be had. Instead, this becomes at least the third telling of the Madoff story, all of which come to the same conclusion. Madoff was a bad man, and the system should have stopped him. Yet in the wake of Fyre Festivals and Theranos clones, the swindler lifestyle remains popular. Rather than interrogate what made Madoff unique, we’re left with an all too common story.