Friday, April 13, 2012

“Unraveled” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the documentary “Unraveled” . 


When former attorney Marc Dreier is found guilty of a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi Scheme involving the law firm he founded, he is placed under house arrest and while awaiting sentencing, consents to a series of interviews about his crime.


With two months remaining before he must go to court for sentencing, Marc Dreier remains under house arrest in his luxurious $10 million Manhattan penthouse apartment with an armed guard keeping watch full-time. During this period, Dreier proceeds to get his affairs in order, packing up his belongings and getting ready to put everything in storage for however long he will be in prison. Being a sports fan, Dreier spends much of his time watching baseball games on television, sometimes with his son, with whom he occasionally watches the TV game show “Jeopardy” as well – all the while bragging that he never gets the Final Jeopardy question wrong.

While at home alone with his thoughts, Dreier uses this as an opportunity to reflect on his life, including and especially all of the events that led up to him being arrested when caught pulling the scam which brought down his high-profile law firm. At the time Dreier LLP went out of business, the firm had in its employ 800 attorneys. Greed being Dreier’s ultimate downfall, he claims, “I didn’t borrow money to buy things – I bought things in order to borrow money”. What Dreier is referring to here is the that he discovered a rather curious fact of life: banks and potential investors would be more likely to loan his firm money if he already looked like he didn’t really need the cash; therefore, if he gave the appearance of already being successful, people would be more likely to want to be part of that success story.

As the day of his court date draws near, Dreier meets with someone who calls himself a “Criminologist”, but is really something of a prison consultant; his purpose is to advise Dreier about exactly what to expect regarding the types of minimum-security prisons in which he will probably do his time. Dreier steers their conversation to such trivial subjects as food, prison jobs and accessibility of sports on the prison television. Additionally, he meets with his lawyers, with whom he argues about how they should present his situation before the judge; obviously, a desperate Dreier connives to get the most lenient sentence possible. Although the lawyers are trying to manage his expectations and bring him back to reality, Dreier insists that he be presented as a good guy who used bad judgment and therefore does not deserve the stiff sentence of 140 years that Bernie Madoff had recently been handed.


Although there was extensive media coverage of Dreier’s misdeeds in the media – including an interview he did with the “60 Minutes” television show – “Unraveled” is arguably more informative due to the fact that it takes a different perspective, serving as something of a postscript to the entire story. While given the opportunity to give an extensive mea culpa, Dreier also makes many attempts to garner sympathy from both the documentarian and the audience viewing this film by talking about his upbringing and scholarly Ivy League background, having studied at both Harvard and Yale. Dreier makes note of the fact that his high school graduating class voted him “Most Likely To Succeed”.

While recommending “Unraveled”, I should note a couple of things that occasionally took me out of Dreier’s story, albeit momentarily. One thing was that at several points in the movie, Dreier recounts various stages of his scam; in some of these moments, the filmmaker cuts away to animated or still artist renderings of the event being described. These drawings generally look like they were lifted from a Marc Dreier comic book (or “graphic novel”, if you prefer); I found this to be somewhat awkward because it was unclear if the filmmaker did this for comic relief or if he intended the audience to take it seriously. The cutaways to the drawings were an attempt to relieve audiences from the boredom of Dreier being merely a talking head during the interviews, which brings me to my second point. Almost all of the exposition of the story is provided directly by Dreier himself because the filmmaker made the choice of not going with a narrator. Depending on your sensitivity to this matter (and how strongly you may feel about Dreier himself), listening to this single voice for almost the entire movie could be somewhat tiresome.

Following the screening, the instructor interviewed the director of “Unraveled”, Marc Simon, an attorney/filmmaker who was one of the lawyers employed at Dreier’s company and wound up losing his job when the firm went under. Simon spoke of how he had been taken under Dreier’s wing during his employ and how Dreier played the role of mentor to him. As much as Simon admired Dreier, he said that he knew he could never be him because he lacked Dreier’s blind ambition for success and instead craved a better balance between his personal and professional life. During the interview, Simon revealed that the reason why Dreier had consented to the documentary is because Simon’s production company had agreed to what Simon referred to as an “Access Fee” – in this case, meaning that they paid for the last month of Dreier’s house arrest so he would not have to be held in a detention facility while awaiting sentencing.



No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak Your Piece, Beeyotch!