Weekend Binge: These 5 movies prove things don’t end well for fraudsters. Someone tell Nirav Modi

Before you start speculating who’ll play Nirav Modi in the inevitable biopic, watch these five movies about fraudsters (not con-men) for catharsis.

weekend binge Updated: Feb 24, 2018 11:20 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Weekend Binge,Nirav Modi,PNB Fraud
Robert De Niro, George Clooney and Richard Gere have all played fraudsters.

Every week, we will curate a collection of titles - movies, TV, general miscellanea - for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.

While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events - it could be the release of a new movie, or show - we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.

This week, however, there isn’t much to wrap our heads around. At the risk of ignoring the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ maxim, billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi’s actions, while clouded in a haze typical to bank-related frauds, is clear. In a nutshell, they say he conducted fraudulent transactions in the vicinity of $1.8 billion (or Rs 11,000 crore) at Punjab National Bank. To explain the finer details of the story we’d probably need Margot Robbie in a bathtub, a la The Big Short, a terrific movie that, ironically, isn’t on this list.

Instead, we’ll be focusing on similar stories of large-scale fraud, preferably with a face to point fingers at. You’d also notice the absence of The Wolf of Wall Street on this list, which, besides being already too popular to recommend, problematically celebrates Leonardo DiCaprio’s sleazy scamster. We can’t have that. What we can have are these five movies, though.

The Wizard of Lies

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer in a still from The Wizard of Lies.

Bernie Madoff’s fraud was estimated at $64 billion (Rs 41,48,80,00,00,000 - work it out). That’s enough to make it the biggest financial fraud in US history. He’s played by Robert De Niro in The Wizard of Lies, who reunited with director Barry Levinson and star Michelle Pfeiffer to (at least) attempt to tell this almost unbelievable story about human greed, hubris, and corporate malpractice - themes we’ll meet again very soon.

Margin Call

Penn Badgley, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany and Kevin Spacey in a still from Margin Call.

There have been several movies made on the 2008 financial crisis, but there is perhaps none better than JC Chandor’s debut. Movies about banking frauds are similar to movies about casinos, in that if they spend too much time spouting off jargon (or playing cards) they become unfathomable. Not only is Margin Call a smooth ride on that front - we understand who’s who, and what they’re purpose in the story is - it also gives us clear heroes and villains. Sometimes I wonder if we really do require spoon-feeding.


Richard Gere in a still from Arbitrage.

While Arbitrage, directed by Nicholas Jarecki, comes dangerously close to humanising a rich hedge-fund manager - bound to happen if Richard Gere is involved - it doesn’t come quite as close to the shamelessness of Wolf of Wall Street. Now’s a good time to point out that Wolf of Wall Street is a great movie, just not the most ethical one. Like the Wizard of Lies, Arbitrage offers a close look inside the mind of someone who has committed crimes, and (at least in this case) is struggling with guilt.

Michael Clayton

George Clooney in a still from Michael Clayton.

Director Tony Gilroy has always shown a knack for stories about men trapped inside organisations. He wrote several films in the Bourne franchise, and also directed the Jeremy Renner spin-off. Michael Clayton, besides being one of the most underrated films of George Clooney’s career, despite getting him an Oscar nomination, offers a fresh perspective to the sort of stories we’ve been discussing - from the point of view of a lawyer convinced that his client is guilty.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

The official poster for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

Once again, for clarity about the fraud - one of the biggest in US history - you’re going to have to rely on another Margot Robbie cameo. Or you could just watch Alex Gibney’s documentary instead. The highly prolific filmmaker has tackled everything from Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal to the rise and fall of Julian Assange to corruption inside the Vatican. So he’s the perfect person to tell this critical story.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Feb 24, 2018 11:19 IST