The rise and semi-fall of hedge fund titan Steven A. Cohen amid charges of insider trading is the focus of Nick Verbitsky’s documentary, which first aired on PBS’ “Frontline.” As the head of SAC Capital Advisors, Cohen had a knack for enjoying substantial gains ahead of his competition – and he happily displayed his wealth with some rather gaudy real estate and a museum-worthy art collection, as well as a Christmas card depicting himself as a king.
Needless to say, Cohen’s uncommon good fortune raised more than a few red flags, resulting in a federal probe that led to a flurry of convictions. While Cohen, not surprisingly, declined to participate in this documentary, a deposition video from 2011 finds him doing a none-too-credible impersonation of a dum-dum that cannot understand the chaos swirling about him.
This could be compelling, but Verbitsky fails to turn this white-collar-crime tale into a cogent film. Even worse, the lack of vibrant images to accompany the story often results in some strange visuals – including an oscilloscope screen vibrating to the soundtrack of taped telephone calls. On-screen host Martin Smith takes his job a little too seriously, offering stern gazes and melodramatic questioning to visibly uncomfortable FBI agents, while Fox Business News hack Charles Gasparino and smarmy insider trader-turned-memoirist Turney Duff provide smug, smarty-pants commentary on what took place. The result is a work of excessive dreariness – I had to watch it twice, having fallen asleep during my initial screening, and that’s no small feat because I also work as a financial journalist and I usually find this stuff fascinating.
As for Cohen, he was forced to shut down SAC Capital – but he never faced any criminal indictment, which seems to make this entire endeavor an exercise in futility.