‘Unraveled’ offers candid profile of high-flying con man
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Marc Simon was building a successful entertainment practice within the New York law firm Dreier LLP when his world collapsed in late 2008.
The firm’s head, Marc Dreier, was caught running a $700-million fraud scheme, and in a heartbeat the firm closed, taking hundreds of employees with it.
Simon, an associate in the firm, was owed tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid expenses and far more in deferred compensation. “It was a real hit,” Simon said. “I was really financially damaged.”
But even as Simon scrambled to keep his head above water, he had an equally pressing concern — could he turn the high-living Dreier’s downfall into a documentary? “I immediately said to myself, ‘There’s a movie in this.’ And other people agreed.”
The resulting film, “Unraveled,” arrives in theaters and on video-on-demand this weekend. The documentary, which will also play on Showtime and CNBC this year, is an unusual portrait of a criminal, something of an extended monologue in which Dreier attempts to explain himself and his crimes, which included selling fake promissory notes to hedge funds and other investors.
Simon spent weeks with Dreier while he was under house arrest in his cavernous Manhattan apartment after entering a guilty plea but before he was sentenced to prison by a federal judge. Because his victims and former law colleagues were reluctant to talk about Dreier, Simon filled the movie with archival film and original graphic illustrations.
“He trusted me and believed this was not going to be a tabloid opportunity — that it would be balanced,” said Simon, who in addition to representing filmmakers as a transactional lawyer (his movie deals include “Winter’s Bone” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”) directed the 2008 documentary “Nursery University.”
Unlike Bernie Madoff, who has shared little about his Ponzi scheme motivations and personal regrets, Dreier welcomed Simon’s camera, even if some of his rationalizations stretch credulity, such as arguing that he was more a victim of bad luck than bad motives.
Simon said he was struck by Dreier’s demeanor — “He was like a caged rat, he was cornered and desperate” — and by some of his justifications. “I certainly think there is intellectual remorse,” said Simon, who soon after the Dreier firm imploded set up shop at the firm Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard. “But I don’t think he has connected viscerally to the damage he has caused.” Dreier, who loved buying expensive homes, cars and art, has no guilt whatsoever, Simon said, of the roughly 800 people who lost their jobs when the scheme was uncovered.
The film will play in just a handful of theaters, the first weekend focused on New York and Los Angeles, where Dreier’s firm had an office. “Documentaries are a challenge in and of themselves,” said Miranda Bailey, whose Ambush Entertainment was one of “Unraveled’s” production companies.
Simon believes his film is a “cautionary tale” about “what happens when we forget about our morals, about what happens when we forget about our values. This guy is symbolic of the times we are living in.”
— John Horn