IDFA – The Real Tower Heist

Marc Dreier Unraveled

Unraveled – dir. Marc H. Simon, at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam  (IDFA)

When Marc Dreier’s property was being auctioned after the lawyer pleaded guilty to massive fraud charges in 2009, his paper shredder came up on the block. “If this shredder could talk…..,” said the auctioneer, as the bids started to come in.

In Unraveled, a documentary by Marc Simon that everyone should see, Marc Dreier talks, at length. He talks about the crimes that he confessed to, as he sits, awaiting his sentence, in a high-rise condo that’s stripped of the high-priced art and furniture that once decorated it – it’s as white as a classic photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar.

A Few Sentences Before Sentencing - Marc Dreier Writes Under House Arrest In His Tower Suite in Unraveled

If only Tower Heist had been so entertaining – or so enlightening. Dreier talks of his own ambition, and of his sense of what destiny owed a person of his intelligence and abilities.  He talks about the stroke of luck that enabled him to get a low rent on the office space where he established the firm that sent him into debt, and then into crime. The landlord was told that Dreier had been voted “most likely to succeed” in high school.

Unraveled by Marc Simon gives you more access to one of the masters of the universe, as Tom Wolfe called them several recessions ago, more than any of the recent films on the rape of the economy – although Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job gets at some of the “theoreticians” who led us to the collapse.

Why such access? One of the “known unknowns” here is that Marc Simon worked for Dreier LLP, and Dreier seems to have trusted him.  Watching Unraveled, you also get a sense that Dreier wanted to get his side of the story out – not the story of his innocence, but the logic of why an intelligent lawyer who knew right from wrong would break the law in such a brazen way.

Brazen is an understatement. Remember that one of Dreier’s choice clients was the real estate zillionaire Sheldon Solow, a mega-rich bully for whom Dreier was a hired bully. Dreier didn’t just end up defrauding Solow, but he impersonated other clients as he borrowed huge amounts on their accounts. After the fact (after he got caught, that is), Dreier wonders why someone didn’t just shake him and tell him that he shouldn’t have been doing what he was doing. But wasn’t he concealing what he was doing when he ripped off clients? And wasn’t he told that what he was doing was indeed wrong when he was arrested in Toronto and led off in handcuffs? Pity the poor swindler.

It doesn’t all add up in Unraveled, and I’m not just referring to the money that Dreier stole. You don’t have to love Marc Dreier to recognize the contradictions inside this character, or to consider the ambition that fueled schemes that seemed sure to collapse on top of him. It’s still a mystery why he dug himself so deep.

Dreier was deluded, yet even the self-pity that surfaces under questioning from Marc Simon is rooted in reality.  After all, he’s the one who got caught. “Is that fair?” he might ask. As major banks settle charges of deception and fraud (and are found by regulators to be involved in the same behavior once again), Dreier is alone, a man who betrayed his allies and the people who made him rich. If he had friends, they didn’t visit the apartment to say goodbye. Dreier’s closest companion is his dog. You’re never told in the film what happened to him.

Lonely at the Top? A Pet in Purgatory in 'Unraveled' - On the Edge with Man's Best Friend

When Simon talks to Dreier, the lawyer doesn’t seem haunted by his circumstances – at least not yet. In 2009, Dreier still talks like a man who is accustomed to talking his way out of delicate situations, and he springs into attack mode when his son calls him from the Hamptons to say that the landlord of his rented house won’t allow smoking – why is a son who won’t see his father for the next 20 years partying in the Hamptons? If there’s one thing you learn from the movies — even from a documentary – it’s that the rich aren’t like the rest of us. Never mind. Dreier pledges revenge, vowing to call the realtor tomorrow for his son. Does he believe that people are still afraid of a man who’s going into prison for 20 years? Yes, he does.

He won’t have a chance to get even for the next 17 years, which is what he has to serve unless he’s pardoned. Dreier will have plenty of time to plan it.  Until then, we have Unraveled, which opens in the spring.

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