Man on the Run
(USA, 98 min.)
Dir. Cassius Michael Kim
What’s it like to be friends with Leonardo DiCaprio, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Jamie Foxx? Pretty expense, it seems, according to the investigative documentary Man on the Run. The film tells how Malaysian businessman and wannabe playboy Jho Low schmoozed his way into elite circles. Celebrities like Kardashian and DiCaprio reportedly scored trash bags full of cash valued up to $250,000 USD just for letting Low rub shoulders with them. The scandalous celebrity factor offers a great hook for a deeper, and far zanier, spending spree as Man on the Run details an international scandal in which the Kardashian-aspirant Low conned the Malaysian government out of billions of dollars, inadvertently toppled a world leader, and committed countless acts of brazen fraud. A Hollywood drama seems inevitable, if anyone’s equally brave to air the dirty laundry.
Man on the Run chronicles this peculiar story with rigorous speed. Quickly cut talking heads interviews help viewers keep the pace as information flows furiously. The doc veers into info-dump territory at times, but there’s a lot of ground to cover—and the strange, circular elements of the story simply echo the circumstances of the case. Director Cassius Michael Kim assembles an impressive roster of talking heads to cover one side of the story. Naturally, DiCaprio, Kim K., and company declined, while rapper Pras Michel bailed at the last second, according to the final title cards.
However, two interviews that Kim lands are excellent: former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was embroiled in the scandal, and now-current P.M. Anwar Ibrahim, who was leader of the opposition at the time. Both politicians add great insights about the machinery of corruption. One of them, quite humorously, gets caught in some lies.
The Wolves of Wall Street
The case of Man on the Run tells how Jho Low conjured a convoluted scheme with the Malaysian wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The enterprise claimed to stimulate development by pilfering money from different countries and funnelling it into different projects. But the interviewees recount a shady trail of spending—mostly bills for Low’s lavish lifestyle, celebrity favours, and parties that required guests to sign NDAs, while Razak and his notoriously crooked wife, Rosmah Mansour, made oodles. But the talking heads also explain that Low got away with it because Razak signed off on 1MDB’s spending through his role with company, then as finance minister, and again as Prime Minister. The film tells of a pretty sloppy and poorly considered money laundering ring—and journalists smartly piece the trail together.
The film’s a who’s who rap sheet of crooks, as the talking heads connect the dots to Goldman Sachs. They explain how the company shifted predatory behaviour on developing countries after bankrupting Americans during the 2008 crisis.
Especially novel is story of how the 1MDB scandal financed a Hollywood hit. Man on the Run tells an art-imitating-life tale about Razak siphoning money to help his stepson produce movies. That money went to make Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which stars DiCaprio as a real-life huckster who made millions. The interviewees suggest that DiCaprio had suspicions that the money for the film wasn’t on the level. There’s also a great tidbit for aspiring Hollywood icons everywhere that one of the film’s producers, Joey McFarland, used to plan Paris Hilton’s parties and hold her purse before hooking up with Aziz and Low. The film therefore has something of a perverse fairy tale element, but these guys aren’t stealing from the rich and giving it to the poor.
The Netflix Formula
However, the nature of the web and the secrecy entailed in Low’s hobnobbing inevitably restricts the material with which to tell the story. Editors Jon Connor and Karl Dawson keep the flow of information lively by cutting smartly between the interviews. The also punctuate necessary beats, especially during Razak’s testimony. His fumbles say more than his straight answers. But Man on the Run fills in the visuals with lots of re-enactment filler and B-roll cutaways. Visually and aesthetically, the documentary fits the mould of a Netflix true crime thriller comfortably, but it’s a formula that audiences have seen many, many times before. It could just as easily be a podcast to save money on visual filler. On the other hand, it’s a formula that works as brisk, informative docu-tainment.
The film also pulls off the tricky feat of keeping an enigmatic character at its center without getting any words from him. That man, of course, is Jho Low, who, according to the final cards, was hiding somewhere in the Arctic Circle on a yacht. Perhaps it’s best just to let the interviewees characterize what a buffoon he is.