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Unraveled: A Film Review

By Christine A. Pepe

The documentary film Unraveled tells the compelling story of Marc Dreier, a once well-regarded attorney, who was convicted in 2009 for defrauding hedge funds and other investors of more than $400 million dollars. Dreier's scheme involved creating and selling fictitious promissory notes purportedly issued by his "clients." Of course, there were no real clients borrowing the money--Dreier used the borrowed funds to fuel his lavish lifestyle (e.g., an art collection including works by Warhol, Picasso, Matisse, and Damien Hirst, two yachts, an Aston Martin, a vacation home in the Caribbean, multiple homes in the Hamptons) and grow his law firm, Dreier LLP. The successful perpetration of Dreier's Ponzi scheme ultimately involved arranging meetings for the hedge fund investors during which Dreier (or one of his lackeys) impersonated representatives from the purported issuers of the promissory notes. If you haven't heard of Marc Dreier, that's largely because his story was overshadowed by an even bigger Ponzi schemer, Bernie Madoff, who was arrested and sentenced around the same time. Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison--Dreier to 20 years.

Consisting of first person accounts, archival footage and graphic animation, Unraveled presents an engaging and thought-provoking portrait of one of America's more brazen white collar criminals. Part of the film's impact is that it captures Dreier during his period of house arrest as he awaits sentencing after pleading guilty, an undoubtedly intimate and vulnerable time. Unraveled is directed by Marc Simon--an entertainment attorney at Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP--who previously worked for Dreier LLP and knows Dreier personally, even viewing him as a mentor at one time. Despite this potential closeness to the subject matter, Simon's film remains objective in its case study. The score, written by Chris Hajian, adds to the film, creating an ominous and powerful backdrop to this dark tale of one man's self-inflicted demise.

Dreier graduated from Yale and went on to Harvard Law School; in high school, he was president of his class and was voted "Most Likely To Succeed." These types of achievements apparently weigh heavy on a person throughout life--they convinced Dreier that not only was he was destined for tremendous success, but that he must achieve it--at all costs. Success can mean a lot of things to different people, but for Dreier, success meant money, status, and more importantly, the appearance of success. While many attorneys can relate to the pressure to succeed, for Dreier, the illusory appearance of success became a compulsion. The film gives Dreier a platform to explain why he "lost his way", as he admits, and lets the viewer decide whether any degree of sympathy is warranted.

Most people will never cross the line that Dreier crossed, but is that, as Dreier muses in the film, because the line is presented to so few people--dare we say an elite few? As Dreier continues his on-camera introspection, he ponders what really stops most people from committing crimes: Is it moral opposition or just a fear of getting caught? In this way, Dreier is reminiscent of Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov. It seems that what was driving both Dreier and Raskolnikov in part was a desire to prove themselves "extraordinary men" above morality and law. Raskolnikov killed because he could; Dreier swindled because he could. Of course, the analogy to Raskolnikov ends when Dreier gets caught in the criminal act, whereas, if you recall, Raskolinkov's guilt over his murder overwhelmed him to the brink of confession. For me, Unraveled provided a fascinating exploration of the psychological motivations of a white collar criminal. See this film and decide for yourself what drove a member of the legal profession off the rails into a life of criminality and whether the punishment fits the crime.

UNRAVELED premieres April 13th, 2012 at the City Village Cinema East (2nd Avenue and 11th/12th Streets)

Tickets can be purchased here: http://www.fandango.com/citycinemasvillageeast_aaecf/theaterpage?date=4%2F13%2F2012

or you can visit the UNRAVELED Facebook page with links to the theatre website: http://www.facebook.com/Unraveledthefilm?ref=tn_tnmn

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