In the past, my taste in documentaries has leaned strongly towards fare featuring serial killers or unsolved crime. Part of me thinks I should be concerned that murder and mayhem are my go-to entertainment choices. Part of me thinks this is just who I am as a person, for better or worse, and I shouldn’t be bothered. That being said, I decided to take a walk on the wild side and give Netflix’s Dirty Money a shot last weekend. This turned out to be a good choice.
Dirty Money is a series of short documentaries that feature a range of subject matter with a centralized focus on businesses both in the US and internationally. To put it simply, each episode is an examination of the ways in which businesses have preyed on consumers or engaged in/with criminal activity. Each episode dips down it’s own path. Sometimes the conclusion is satisfactory: justice is served, guilty parties are held accountable, and the systems we put our faith in come through for us. Sometimes, however, the conclusion is infuriating. A phrase that crops up in episode 4 is “too big to jail”, and that struck an odd, demoralizing chord with me. In some cases viewers may find themselves feeling conflicted, which is arguably the worst feeling of all.
The subject matter of the series is timely and relevant. Several of the episodes tie in with incidents that are recent enough to elicit a kind of déjà vu experience. More than a handful of times I found myself thinking “oh wait, I remember hearing about this.” That familiarity is part of what makes this so enjoyable for me. If nothing else, it’s definitely a jumping off point for conversations. The series often finds itself wading into a myriad of debates, many of them highly contentious. One of which is the regulation versus free market
As far as Netflix’s original content is concerned, I think they can mark this series down as another win. The first episode was directed by Alex Gibney (who also served as an executive producer for the entire series). If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he won an Oscar (with Eva Orner) for his 2007 documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. Directors with plenty of their own clout helm the other five episodes, and the result is well put-together series that can be readily consumed in an afternoon (unless you’re a quitter).