The film’s opening montage features Dreier in Toronto realizing that if he doesn’t raise USD$40M, he risks living as a fugitive for the rest of his life. At this point in time, he attempts to gain access to funds from the OTPP, a billion dollar plus pension plan and his last chance to pay back loans which were due. Despite having millions transferred into his bank from his client’s escrow accounts and being on international soil, why doesn’t he run? As Simon reminds me, Drier had two other chances to do the same: Once in Dubai where no extradition treaties exist; and another time on his yacht in St. Bart’s. Even then, with up to $100M in personal accounts, Dreier had enough money to live comfortably as a fugitive for the rest of his life.
“One, I think he still believed that some way he could talk himself out of this. He was still in denial about the depth of the mess he had created. Two, I think that there….again, it’s part of his image, part of it I think is on a humanistic level with his family, he knew that if he was to live as a fugitive, that would be far more damaging to his family and his children than coming back and serving the penalty for his crimes. I think he connected to that, and it was for those two principal reasons I don’t think he had an understanding of how great the penalty would be. “
Most of Unraveled is shot in Dreier’s slick $10M Manhattan apartment, and it is here that the audience is treated to a relatively calm, collected man spending time with his son Spencer and faithful dog; most of Simon’s questions are answered as expected with pitch-perfect responses and regrets of his downfall. Dreier’s explanations feel almost forced—too perfect, likely due to the fact he is not truly remorseful, at least not on an emotional level. Dreier didn’t care about his employees losing their jobs, and I can imagine he doesn’t feel repentant for the hedge funds he stole for or the clients he impersonated, especially after using their his clients’ own boardrooms to conduct the schemes to feign legitimacy
Simon’s true success in the film is his handling of Dreier’s personal relationships, and attempting to break through to him on an emotional level.
In this scenario, Dreier’s strongest moment in the film is his emotional vulnerability when questioned about his 88-year old mother whom at the time was paying tens of thousands of dollars to pay Dreier’s private security while under house arrest.
Simon presented me with a couple of notable elements that the audience needs to keep in mind. “We’re dealing with an unreliable narrator. The one area where I believe that Dreier did have some emotional connection was to his family. That’s where cracks in the armor could be exposed. But as soon as the crack would start to show, he would want to pull back. Look, he’s a son, he’s a father, and he’s a brother. When he contemplates what his crimes did to his family—that’s where it starts to hit him.”
But, why then? Were Dreier’s dealings motivated simply by success and the recognition of that success? Wouldn’t being locked up or ending up as a fugitive be counterproductive to the image he was trying to sustain? Was it the game of risk that he was engaging in that exhilarated him to continue?
I posed these questions to Simon, who quickly pointed out that Dreier had not “confess(ed) that being the case. Dreier absolutely got gratification out of, and it’s why he kept doing it, it was the result.”
“I do think the so-called entrepreneurialism of the fraud excited him. He wasn’t going to say it did but moreover it was the recognition money allowed him to have, to hang around with athletes and celebrities, to be the big man on campus and be recognized. That’s what he so desperately wanted and that’s the universality of what his story, of what this portrait represents. “
It’s an interesting summation that characterizes the documentary or ‘portrait’ as Simon refers to it. One that finds its place at a crossroads between the visually dark resume of a man and his attempts to rationalize his behavior by delineating himself as a contemplative character who understands, and accepts his wrongdoings.
But how is Simon able to remain unbiased at the helm? “I would say going into filming that was certainly my biggest concern. I called in my copilot on the production, my cinematographer Bob Richmond and every day before we would enter into this guild, this cage of house arrest, we would go over the days agenda, and I would say to him, ‘If you don’t see or feel me pushing hard on any issues, make sure you prod me and/or jump in yourself.’”
What would the audience take from the film? Would some feel like I did, questioning his motives; or would others tap into Dreier’s story of remorse and feel twinges of sympathy?
“I think that there is a certain percentage of the audience that he does convince, there’s a percentage of the audience that he absolutely does not convince—and probably irritates more than that, and then there’s a third percent of the audience that they catch themselves feeling sympathy for him; and get frustrated and confused of why they’re feeling sympathy for this guy who did such an awful thing. I said that’s what makes this film unique, I want to say that’s the goal in the film, for audiences to be conflicted. I want them to judge this guy and make their own decisions and I don’t expect universality of opinion.”
Unraveled will be released on Friday in select theaters and nationwide on VOD.
Check out more at www.unraveledthefilm.com