Dirty Money review: Six-part documentary series reflects everything that's gone wrong with America due to capitalism

Archita Kashyap

Feb,12 2018 09:25 08 IST

It’s telling that a six-part documentary series titled Dirty Money has two episodes, each focused on drug mafia money and the American pharmaceutical industry businesses. And that the President of the USA is also included in this line up, is a definite hint (of just how amoral public life in America has become). Both indulge in dirty business practices, as does Wall Street and global banks.

In a comprehensive and finely executed reveal of corporate greed, avarice, the iron grip of massive financial institutions and fraud, this six-part documentary series is consistent on one aspect — simplifying complex business scandals, financial and moral crimes for the viewer with effective, skilled story telling.

A still from Dirty Love. Image from Twitter/@MrsWRetired

A still from Dirty Love. Image from Twitter/@MrsWRetired

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney helms this series as executive producer, having directed the opening episode, Hard Nox. It emerges from personal anger at having been lied to by Volkswagen when the company sold diesel cars across the world as clean engines. Gibney traces a culture of systemic lying and fraud to manipulate emission levels by this legendary German company. It uses a 'defeat device' and regularly manipulates software to avoid getting caught, never once admitting to their misdeeds. Gibney interviews US regulators, lawyers, academic researchers, journalists and ex-Volkswagen employees in Germany to paint a sordid picture — the company partook in deceit and manipulation to sell more cars. In the process, it hurt the environment for decades. It bent and broke US environmental regulations and emissions laws.

Forced to recall its cars, this German automobile manufacturer which took pride of place among the engineering marvels of Nazi Germany, brought other European auto giants under the scrutiny of local media. While corporate giants and local European governments attempted to muffle the press, their combined investigations lift the veil off the myth of a brilliant, qualitative European automobile engineering and manufacture. Profits came first. And governments in Europe turned a blind eye to the manipulation of environmental regulations, just like the companies. So much for being a First World nation! So the next time you see a BMW, Mercedes or the VW Beetle drive by and sigh longingly, think again — they are killing trees and dirtying the air relentlessly. And yes, Volkswagen did recall 3.5 lakh cars in India too, but so many more continue to pollute the environment.

The episode on HSBC Bank and its proven global linkages to laundering of the wealth of Mexican drug cartels is suitably titled Cartel Bank. Palpable anger underlines its narrative, and rightfully so. For all the exposes that cops while battling drugs across USA and Mexico, brave journalists and honest government prosecutors made possible, the bank got away largely unhurt. This episode is fun to froth with indignation as it meticulously explains the simple process of washing this blood money through a global bank that chose to ignore its alerts and shut down its checks to mint billions. Mexican cartels and banned, sanctioned companies were premium customers for HSBC, thus making this behemoth complicit in terror funding.

Yet, all it got from the US Attorney’s office is a financial slap on the wrist in 2012. And in 2017, got cleared of criminal charges. Ironically, in a convoluted confession of sorts, the bank admits to all the wrongdoings on paper. Bringing down HSBC in a global economy and shaky European political scenario could trigger another financial downslide. In its frustrated tone of subtle rage, Cartel Bank highlights the helplessness of governments and ultimately, people, when it comes to tackling criminalisation by big banks. Bankers and mafia, almost start feeling like the same thing.

The fifth episode of this series, The Confidence Man, is the one with maximum universal appeal. It pulls the plug, not so gently, on the idiotic myth that Donald Trump is a successful business tycoon. In reality, he is anything but that. Fisher Stevens, actor and producer, directs this documentary with a quasi- investigative tone focused on studying how Donald Trump fared as a businessman. With smart word play on the 'Conman' in its title, the episode establishes just how every business that Trump touched, turned to dust, often leaving others to pick up the pieces. From property and casinos to a TV show, everything in Trump’s world is propped up. And he loved doing interviews, always. It reflects a suave braggart with a flair for wooing the media, bearing confidence that beats all logic. Yet, America handed him the keys to the castle, so to speak. For an inconsistent, ill-informed, delusional and headstrong businessman who would often also brag about his obvious failures boisterously, The Confidence Man just reflects what a massive piece of wool Trump pulled over the people’s eyes. Or, did he? Did a section of Americans want to believe what they wanted to believe anyway? While Trump might be the flashiest and perhaps the most obviously lusty President in the USA, he certainly wouldn’t be the first to be ‘crooked’, a term borrowed from his vicious campaign lingo.

The episodes Payday and the Maple Syrup Heist have inherent North American contexts, particularly Pay Day, with its focus on the near-ruin survival of a majority of Americans from pay cheque to pay cheque. But the one that tugs at your heart strings without overtly dramatising it’s story is Drug Short. Simply put, it’s a visually masterful narration of how leading pharmaceutical companies raise drug prices to insane levels (anything between 200 to 700 per cent) to make profits and downsize research and development on new medicines. It reflects the complicity of the so-called progressive minds and powerful hedge funds in such inhuman manipulation to mint money and structure numbers favorably. It also reflects the ironical good service that short sellers do when they go after the stock of such companies — it’s all about profit for them too. Its explanation of dense financial terms is easy to comprehend and quite brilliant. In the end, you do thank your lucky stars for living in India, where generic drugs and cutting edge research has made healthcare a lot more affordable and accessible.

In the end, Dirty Money is a mirror reflection of a lot that has gone wrong with America — the haven of capitalism. Once the land of milk and honey for countless Indian minds, there’s a lot worth rethinking about this country and its approach to life today. Is it really worth the trouble, green card notwithstanding?

Published Date: Feb 12, 2018 09:25 AM | Updated Date: Feb 12, 2018 09:33 AM