Review: Alex Gibney explains the trail behind ‘Dirty Money’ in new Netflix series

The Netflix docu-series "Dirty Money" looks at the greed and corruption of high-finance and big business.
Television Critic

Overflowing champagne glasses and private jets abound in Netflix’s investigative docu-series “Dirty Money.”

Produced by Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney ( “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”), the series looks at the greed, corruption and Machiavellian practices of businesses, and businessmen, once lauded as success stories by Wall Street.

Six different directors over six hourlong episodes explore the machinations and corrupt culture that have given rise to some of the more infamous business scandals of our time. Each segment, all of which premiere Friday, is an entertaining yet informative mini-doc, chock full of research, interviews and artful interstitials.

Episodes include a look at the soaring price of pharmaceuticals, the predatory practices of “payday loans” (you’ve seen the TV ads: “Speedy cash!”) and the Volkswagen diesel scam.


There’s also a maple syrup heist and the story of terror groups and drug cartels laundering money through HSBC Bank. Though seemingly far flung, each episode is loosely connected by the amoral pursuit of money and how that is driving capitalism toward a dangerous precipice.

A scene from "Dirty Money."
(Netflix )

“Drug Short,” directed by Erin Lee Carr (“Thought Crimes”), is the best and most disturbing example of wealth acquisition at any cost. And here, that cost is human life.

The episode investigates big pharma greed via a scandal that took down top dogs at an industry drug giant, Valeant.


The company’s soaring profits rendered it a Wall Street darling earlier in the decade, until a little research by a trader illustrated how they turned consistently high profits. There’s a lot to the story, which “Dirty Money” breaks down in extensive background research and multiple interviews, but the upshot is that the heads of Valeant flipped drugs like houses.

Instead of developing new drugs, as was the model for the industry, they acquired medications already on the market, renamed them, and increased the price. In the case of Syprine, “Dirty Money” says it went from $650 a month to $21,000 overnight. Those who needed the life-saving medicine, and had been taking it for years, were pushed into financial peril while the chief executives rolled in extreme wealth.

“Payday” looks at the predatory practices of quick consumer loans. Director Jesse Moss (“The Overnighters”) gets extensive access to loan lender and race car driver, Scott Tucker, as he prepares to go to trial for criminal charges connected to his now-defunct lending business.

Like other lenders that prey on low-income consumers in need of a little cash, his loans came with hidden fees that might triple or quadruple what’s owed, even as consumers paid them off regularly and on time.


Tucker, meanwhile, was buying mansions and fast cars and making a name for himself as a professional race car driver, playing an elaborate shell game with his businesses that included fronting as a Native American-run operation. His on-camera hubris is astounding, even as tow trucks literally repossess his beloved hot rods from his home mid-interview.

The deceptive nature and near sociopathic unwillingness of Tucker to recognize the ruin his actions brought upon others is another common thread throughout all the unsettling narratives featured in “Dirty Money.”

The sixth episode is about Donald Trump. “The Confidence Man” initially appears to be different from the other five given the subject’s current status as POTUS. Yet it chronicles a businessman perceived to be wildly successful — but scratch the surface, and it’s a very different story.

Trump’s greatest talent, contends the docu-series, was projecting the image of a self-made, successful businessman, which, in essence, was his father’s story. From as far back as the 1980s, Trump’s impulsive deals, bankruptcies and reckless spending spoke otherwise. “The Apprentice” only bolstered the illusion of executive competency, and it was constructed by a team of reality TV producers.


‘Dirty Money’

Where: Netflix

When: Anytime, starting Friday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)