Review of the Netflix series ‘Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street’
Powerful documentary about the culture of greed that led to the biggest Ponzi scam in history.
In 2008, the massive Bernie Madoff fraud came to light. He had defrauded people totaling more than $65 billion. Madoff had been known as a respectable figure on Wall Street until then, but he secretly spearheaded a massive scam. The documentary Madoff: The Wall Street Monster investigate Madoff and his practices. Was he really such a greedy monster or did opportunity make the massive con man?
In the first episode, it quickly becomes apparent that Madoff always had a goal of becoming a Wall Street success story and filthy rich. Already in his first job, in his mother-in-law’s office, he found a way to earn money in an unregulated way. Although this was still done on a very small scale at the time, it turned out to be a blueprint for his future career.
Madoff became involved in the so-called Ponzi scheme. He promised investors high returns, but never actually invested his money. Madoff paid this high interest rate by constantly attracting new investors to whom he promised the same. For example, more and more people were putting money into his fund, which actually didn’t exist at all. Meanwhile, he and his accomplices bought bigger and bigger houses and luxury yachts with the money.
The special thing is how Madoff also had a legal business that was highly praised by Wall Street. The series illustrates very well how this company was located on the eighteenth and nineteenth floors, while the fraud was committed on the seventeenth. Instead of beautiful offices, here was a space where a criminal organization was active among the stacked boxes.
Madoff: The Wall Street Monster contains interviews with those involved, victims, journalists, and FBI agents, as well as archival footage of Madoff himself, but also makes extensive use of actor reconstruction. These add color to the story, mainly due to the similarities of the actors with real people, although mainly we see Madoff drinking champagne, smoking cigars and occasionally insulting someone.
Despite this choice, there is a lot of research in the series, which does not shy away from delving into the details. The structure of the story is solid and journalistically supported. This creates a complex portrait of greed. The unprecedented greed certainly does not reside only in Madoff himself, but also in the people who invested in his fund.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the whole story is that the US financial watchdog, the SEC, has been warned several times about Madoff’s practices. SEC employees were drawn to his charm, made personal deals with him, and ended up not doing his job because Madoff was a highly respected name in the financial world.
A mathematician who had worked for another bank at the time realized a long time ago that there was a Ponzi fraud going on and tried to report it to the SEC for years to no avail. Finally, after the banking crisis, it was not until 2008 that Madoff’s fraudulent practices ended.
The only reason this came out now was that everyone was trying to withdraw their money en masse and Madoff just didn’t have $65 billion to pay. In this way, Madoff suddenly became the scapegoat for the general banking crisis. His head became a worldwide symbol of the greed that led to this economic disaster.
Madoff: The Wall Street Monster it is strongest when the Madoff story is set in the broader context of the entire financial industry. It is true that Madoff was condemned and treated so harshly by the media, but in the end the entire banking system and all the agencies that surrounded it were rotten. The question is whether enough has changed in the meantime or whether we have to wait for the next monster to rise from the Wall Street quagmire.
Madoff: The Wall Street Monster can be seen in Netflix.