Director and Producer Alex Gibney carries a lot of weight in circles of the documentary world. Gibney won an Oscar for 2007’s “Taxi to the Dark Side” and has been a workhorse ever since. One can assume that most film years include at least one Gibney documentary, which will almost always be an above average to great. Now, Gibney’s partnered with Netflix to create a new documentary series that is right up his alley. “Dirty Money” takes on the financial world with unique perspectives and stories. The breath of storytelling here is impressive, and with Gibney shepherding the series, it looks to be a hallmark of Netflix moving forward.
“Dirty Money” takes its cues from other documentary series such as ESPN’s “30 for 30,” which sought to bring underreported stories of the sports world to light with well-known directors championing their films. Gibney contributed to that series as well, making him an ideal showrunner to understand the workings of something so unique. The result is six films that take on crazy and obscure facets of economic unrest and places them in the hands of capable filmmakers.
The first season’s episodes include a film by Gibney regarding VW’s Emission Scandal. It is reported expertly, but shockingly it’s not one of the best of the season. It is a very good documentary, but some of the other episodes rise to heights that will make you buy-in on this premise instantly. There are two episodes in particular that really stand out.
First, “Drug Short” is an impressive piece of filmmaking that details corruption in the pharmaceutical industry. Directed by Erin Lee Carr, the film examines price gouging from Valeant Pharmaceuticals that ultimately led to a collapse of from the drug company. The film is exceptionally shot and combines current day testimony with archival footage expertly. There is a real understanding of the events that took place, and by recontextualizing a pharmaceutical company as the act of insider trading, the financial crimes become obvious quickly.
The second episode to stand out is “Payday,” directed by Jesse Moss. Moss examines payday loans, which often leaves those most in need in a vicious cycle of debt. The film frames itself through one of the few individuals to go to prison for his actions. Scott Tucker offered payday loans in states where it was illegal to do so by having local Native-American tribes take a part ownership of the companies. Eventually, Tucker’s company accumulated over $3.5 billion dollars in loans.
Tucker, a former professional race car driver, is an extremely charismatic subject. Moss does a great job incorporating Tucker and his wife’s thoughts about the events examined. Better yet, he shows the effect of the scam on those hurt most by Tucker’s actions. It’s an excellent piece of content that dives headfirst into an extremely complicated financial sector of the modern world.
The series is a triumph of documentary filmmaking and should be seen as a big step for Netflix. Having a branded documentary series is always a great idea. The fact this one ties everything from the Canadian Maple Syrup Industry, to payday loans, to Donald Trump is amazing. Yet “Dirty Money” not only does this but does it at an extremely high level. It is exciting to think about which directors may contribute to the series as it moves forward. In the meantime, the true crime documentary series of the financial world is must-watch entertainment.