Jho Low, Nazir Razak, voice of Robert De Niro
…a story amply worthy of cinematic treatment, the outrageousness of the conspiracy outdone only by the clichéd way in which it was perpetrated.
Did you know The Wolf of Wall Street was funded by Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund? The Kleptocrats wants to make sure you never forget. This documentary on the ongoing, messy saga of 1MDB, the scheme that brought down Malaysia’s government and was so corrupt it could have made Hun Sen blush, is cleverly structured like a heist: the yellow titles even mimic Wolf of Wall Street.
The film is the product of years of investigative reporting by a motley crew of journalists, US Department of Justice lawsuits and persistent discontent from the Malaysian population. It must be the first film to lasso together the seemingly disparate worlds of the Hollywood entertainment industry and Southeast Asian crony politics. On the style front, it’s tremendously entertaining, flitting between the Cannes Film Festival and million-dollar Vegas parties (“I thought he was like Malaysian royalty, whatever that means,” drawls one entertainment promoter), and dominated by giddy overhead shots of New York and Kuala Lumpur.
A glance at the careers of directors Sam Hobkinson and Havana Marking reveals much of their previous work has been on documenting white-collar crime, from jewellery theft to art fraud. The Kleptocrats glimmers on a surface level of personalities and intertextuality: it doesn’t have a lot of depth or thoroughness on a forensic level. An obvious drawback of that approach is that it privileges the voices of the investigative reporters who pursued and broke the story. The Malaysia material is touristy, with a few talking heads around the edges; virtually the only non-political voice comes from a student driven towards activism, and her presence is so fleeting as to feel like an afterthought. And who is Malaysia’s disgraced former Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and what drove him? The film doesn’t offer any answers, even though it scores an interview with his brother, who you’d expect to be able to provide at least a few pointers.
Still, this is a story amply worthy of cinematic treatment, the outrageousness of the conspiracy outdone only by the clichéd way in which it was perpetrated.