Where to begin? How about this: George W. Bush. His years in office: 2000 to 2008. Now the year the protagonist in this documentary, a money manager named Harry M. Markopolos, discovered that Bernie Madoff was a fraud: 2000, and the year Bernie Madoff admitted he was a fraud: 2008. As you can see, the years match perfectly, and this isn't coincidental. The match makes perfect sense: Madoff prospered in the climate that Bush's policies generated, a climate that was perfect for cheaters and not for honest people like Markopolos.
The documentary is about Markopolos's commitment to truth during a time when lies were used to start wars and blow lots of hot air into the real estate bubble. Everyone knew what Madoff was doing; it didn't take that much math to figure out he was running a gigantic Ponzi scheme. But as long as the checks kept coming, no amount of whistle-blowing could bring him down. What finally got him? Not the law but the global financial meltdown. This is truly astonishing. Picture it: A $50 billion scam only crashed when the whole system crashed. The system itself sustained the scam. In its absence, the Ponzi scheme was like a huge fish on dry land.
Bush, however, is not mentioned at all in this documentary. The reason for this is simple: The director, Jeff Prosserman, designed the film to be apolitical. In his view, the crime had nothing to do with Republicans and Democrats, right or left, conservatives or progressives; it was about bad people and good people. But Madoff was not one evil individual operating in a vacuum; he was a product of his times, and those times were defined by militarism, deregulation of markets, and the attempt to destroy any kind of social cooperation that did not benefit the richest members of this society.
Another disappointing thing about the documentary is that when it's not blaming Madoff for the mess, it's blaming the Securities and Exchange Commission. "The government was supposed to protect us, but they were not doing their job," says a woman who lost a ton of money in one of the many massive black holes that appeared during the long night of Bush's presidency. It is strange to hear her and others say this sort of thing ("the government failed us") because many of the people who gave Madoff money were the sort who vote for the GOP, and the GOP is in the business of dismantling or underfunding any government organization that's not attached to the military. Like the banks, rich people suddenly see the importance of the government when the shit hits the fan.
One more thing about this film: It has the mood and structure of a thriller. The story: Markopolos discovers the evil and then risks his and his family's safety to expose the evil. At one point, he packs a pistol and attempts to secretly hand documents to Eliot Spitzer, who is speaking at an event at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. The mission fails. Indeed, Markopolos's thriller has a sad ending: He never brings Madoff to justice; it is instead Madoff who brings Madoff to justice. This failure has nothing to do with Markopolos as a person (he did everything that was possible, he used every avenue that was available to him), but the social and political climate of that time.