What’s left to tell about the Bernie Madoff scandal? Plenty, if you’re Harry Markopoulos, the famed whistleblower whose repeated cries of “fraud” were ignored by everyone from the SEC to the Wall Street Journal. Markopoulos gets his day in “Chasing Madoff,” partly based on his book “No One Would Listen” (and originally titled “The Foxhounds”). But he doesn’t come off much better than his prey in this highly stylized documentary, screening June 5 at the Berkshire International Film Festival.
A self-described crusader who calls Madoff “evil,” Markopoulos seems to relish vamping for the camera as much as he savors telling his story; director Jeff Prosserman pads the film’s 90 minutes with po-faced dramatizations that literalize what we hear in Markopoulos’s clammy voiceover (Harry taps the keyboard to e-mail reporters; Harry looks under his car for a bomb; Harry frenetically faxes documents). In case we miss the point, Prosserman also overlays fake news announcements over vintage newsreel footage to remind us that crime doesn’t pay, whistleblowers get hurt, and the stock market’s unfair.
Suspense does build as the tale comes to its inevitable conclusion — it’s hard not to get sweaty palms with interstitial images of octopus tentacles (get it?), falling rocks, and oozing blood (dramatizing the suicide of feeder-fund hawker Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet). Clangorous percussion, rapid-fire cuts, and neurotic flipping between color and black-and-white also ratchet up the tension even as they drain the film of subtlety.
Madoff’s broken clients, identified by their case numbers only, provide the film’s few genuine moments. We hear of broken dreams, retirements annulled, and careful, lifelong plans destroyed. One tough-guy plaintiff breaks down in tears as his wife watches, helpless. We’ve heard these stories before, but the context gives them terrible new gravity. And as much as it hurts, Prosserman should have woven in more of their voices.
It’s hard to argue with Markopoulos’s righteous anger — he calls Madoff and company “financial terrorists getting away with financial murder” — but the tale would have held more power if Prosserman trusted the audience to connect just a few dots without his help. The only real wallop comes in the film’s final frame, where we learn it’s “dedicated to those who will fall in the next financial crisis.”