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Originally published Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Movie review

'Chasing Madoff': a tale not to be ignored

A movie review of "Chasing Madoff," an enlightening but distressing documentary concerning the effort by a forensic accountant to draw the U.S. government's attention to Bernie Madoff's global Ponzi scheme, which ruined many lives.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Chasing Madoff,' a documentary written and directed by Jeff Prosserman, based on a book by Harry Markopolos. 91 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Varsity.

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Most Americans have probably fantasized about sitting before a committee of Congress to rail against official incompetence in government. But most Americans haven't gone through what Harry Markopolos went through to blast the Securities and Exchange Commission before sympathetic politicians in 2009.

The unassuming, charisma-free Markopolos is the unexpectedly fascinating subject of "Chasing Madoff," the first full-length documentary by Jeff Prosserman. The film, based on a book by Markopolos, concerns his often harrowing years, with a handful of allies, failing to draw attention to a global Ponzi scheme run by the now-imprisoned, former wealth manager Bernie Madoff.

As the chief investment officer at a Boston financial firm, Markopolos first heard in 1999 about Madoff's claims of a constantly growing revenue stream from hedge funds. Crunching the numbers, he quickly uncovered a fraud of global proportions.

Prosserman wisely skirts the esoterica of high finance, though he cleverly uses good visual devices to suggest the shocking scope of Madoff's crimes.

The film is clear about the bottom line: Madoff stole billions from many hardworking people, some of whom appear on camera.

But "Chasing Madoff" is really about Markopolos, who spent a decade trying to get the SEC and the news media to investigate hard evidence he kept handing them.

For his trouble, he was routinely ignored, lived in constant fear for his and his family's safety, and came to realize that corruption in the financial world is widespread.

Prosserman heavily underscores a thriller angle, sometimes awkwardly.

We see Markopolis re-creating moments of paranoia, checking his car for bombs and donning a bulletproof vest. Clips of violence from old gangster films hammer us with the threat of a hit that never happened.

Yet that visceral stuff has a way of reminding us the Madoff affair ended with ruined lives and suicides. Prosserman closes "Chasing Madoff" with a chilling dedication suggesting we all remain vulnerable to failed oversight in the financial industry: "To those who will fall in the next crisis."

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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