“My biggest fear is that someone will snore.”
The above statement comes from Marc Drier, the infamous lawyer convicted on charges of fraud and money laundering, while he’s contemplating life in a white collar prison in the infuriatingly revealing new documentary Unraveled. Sitting in his penthouse apartment under house arrest, waiting for his sentencing date, he also says he hopes that he won’t have to do any manual labor there.
He probably won’t. But his spoiled attitude alone is evidence why minimum security jail time isn’t enough deterrent for big deal crooks like Drier (and Bernie Madoff, whose story overshadowed Drier’s back in Spring 2009). Sure, he won’t see his kids much and he won’t get to hobnob with celebrities anymore, but given his crime, basically an extreme sort of identity theft, he’ll be sitting relatively pretty.
That’s not the most frustrating thing about Drier or this film, which follows his final days as a semi-free man. Directed by one of Drier’s former employees, Marc H. Simon, Unraveled gets unprecedented access to one of the biggest villains of the financial crisis. It kind of reminds me of Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, which it turns out Simon acted in, and it’s also an interesting doc to compare with Werner Herzog’s latest, Into the Abyss, which it turns out Simon also worked on, as legal counsel.
First, let me explain the basic scenario and why it’s one of the most riling films in years. Simon, a lawyer and filmmaker who previously wrote and produced the exoneration doc After Innocence, now lets an obviously guilty man explain and defend himself to the world through multiple interviews and some observational sequences filmed at his giant, mostly stripped Manhattan abode.The background details are fleshed out with news coverage of the scandal and animated reenactment, but mostly he gets to do the storytelling himself.
On the one hand, I’ve never understood the sort of white collar thievery Drier was involved in better than the way he tells it — and the facts are easily trusted, given the circumstances of the offense, even if they’re peppered with defensive language. On the other hand, he plays the victim of society card worse than I’ve ever heard. And the idea that he truly believes he was some kind of Robin Hood for at least his hundreds of employees.
His reasoning for not taking full responsibility is that he’s one of countless person who has been corrupted by the environment of capitalism, not that he’s necessarily corrupt himself. It’s not his fault that movies romanticize big money burglary in films like Ocean’s Eleven and Catch Me if You Can or that he only got caught because the economy was in a downswing. He claims everyone else would do it if they had the means and the guts; he also says he’s not a really bad guy since so many others do what he did but haven’t been found out.
Drier is probably right that more fraud and laundering and other financial swindling will happen in the future. He’s even correct about much of the human nature involved in the cyclical course of the economy and Wall Street corruption, but is he really any less guilty because of how the world turns?
This is where Into the Abyss comes into my thoughts (read my review here). Herzog’s film deals with a specific triple homicide case within a greater consideration of capital punishment and the apparent environmental tragedy of being born into the wrong parts of Eastern Texas. There are terrible family cycles and unfortunate social issues at the heart of the story, to the extent that convicted murderers Michael Perry and Jason Burkett are nearly forgivable as being products of greater problems.
Well, maybe not forgivable, but there are people to feel sorry for in that doc and its setting, including criminals. I couldn’t feel sorry for Drier, though, or anyone like him. Herzog believes that no human subjects can be “humanized” by a filmmaker, because they’re already human, period. I can’t believe that Drier can be humanized by Simon, because he’s actually a monster. He comes across as less human than guys like Perry and Burkett, who’ll easily slaughter three people just because they want a car.
Drier may not have killed anyone but he ruined a lot of lives for cars, houses, a yacht and a lot more. And he doesn’t seem to feel guilty for doing so, only regretful. If there is any film to be perfectly employed as propaganda by the Occupation Wall Street movement, Unraveled is surely it. I wouldn’t be surprised if even some of the 1% were at least embarrassed by it.
Calling the film infuriating isn’t to say it’s a bad movie. In fact, it’s the opposite, only I’m not entirely sure what Simon’s objective is with the doc. Given his relationship to the subject and the way he provides a platform for such defensiveness, Unraveled seems to weigh on the side of Drier, who is treated as more a protagonist than villain, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say hero. Could it be that Simon agrees in Drier’s stance as a victim?
Either way, it’s engaging as much as it’s enraging, and of course it is rare that we ever get so close to a crook like this outside of the dubious stagings of a 60 Minutes or similar news program, none of which have the time for such a candid and in depth examination of a man like Drier. It is unlikely that Unraveled truly unfolds the full character of this master con artist, but being left with dangling intrigue is quite satisfying when it’s combined with a heaping plate of blood-boiling anger.
Unraveled is part of DOC NYC’s Metropolis competition and plays again this Wednesday at noon.
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