Life of Jeffrey Epstein leaves viewer feeling grubby, queasy

The life of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was laden with luxury. He owned a multi-storey townhouse in Manhattan, an apartment in Paris, a ranch in New Mexico, an island in the Caribbean, a private jet. Yet for all its opulence, Epstein's world was an ugly place: a corrupt and exploitative environment where girls were routinely sexually abused. Spending time in the world of the financier, as two recent documentaries do, is likely to leave a viewer feeling grubby, queasy and angry.

But Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix) and Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein? (Foxtel ID), two quite different productions, also demonstrate why streaming services have become such an important home for documentaries.

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in New York in 2005.

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in New York in 2005.

Epstein died in August last year, soon after being taken from his cell in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center, the official verdict being suicide. Yet his story lives on and not just because the circumstances of his death have proved fertile ground for conspiracy theories. The sordid story has a range of reliably intriguing elements: sex, class and powerful people. It's also about the protective cloak that money can buy.

As both shows attest, the moneyman was a master manipulator who wormed his way into the upper echelons of business and society with well-connected English socialite Ghislaine Maxwell by his side. Despite a conviction in Florida in 2008 for procuring an underage girl for prostitution and allegations of financial misdeeds, he hobnobbed with political leaders and corporate barons, with scientific, academic and technology chiefs, and with a prince, who enjoyed his hospitality and largesse.

Meanwhile, with the help of accomplices including Maxwell, who disappeared after his arrest, he lured girls and young women to his homes with offers of payment for "massages", sometimes sweetened by promises of educational or employment opportunities. Many of these girls were vulnerable: "A predator hunts for the weakest," says lawyer Spencer Kuvin, who represents women that Epstein molested.

Inspired by the book by James Patterson, the aptly titled Filthy Rich succinctly illustrates the class divide with a bridge that literally separates the haves from the have-nots. On the island of Palm Beach in Florida the wealthy live in waterfront mansions. Across the Blue Heron Bridge and, as local writer Carl Hiaasen notes, a world away, in West Palm Beach, is a working-class community of rundown houses and trailer parks, where many of the girls lived.

The four-part Filthy Rich features a range of people who do not appear in the other production, from women abused by Epstein, to police, journalists, authors and lawyers involved with the case. Directed by Lisa Bryant, it eschews a sensational tone as it quietly, clinically constructs its portrait.

A large part of its focus is on the women whom Epstein abused, identifying them as survivors rather than victims. It allows space for their stories to be told and their voices to be heard. Their pain is palpable as they detail their fears, regrets, anguish and shame. They are both courageous and fragile. Some reveal lifelong damage.

Possibly, as there's no narration to deploy as a linking device, there are too many cliched shots of various women staring out to sea. But the anger they convey is justified because it took so long for any kind of justice to be achieved. Negotiated by a brigade of high-profile lawyers, the 2008 Miami conviction is persuasively, and shockingly, depicted as a sweetheart deal. After Epstein was arrested last year in New Jersey, his death robbed the women of their chance to confront him in court.

Life of Jeffrey Epstein leaves viewer feeling grubby, queasy Life of Jeffrey Epstein leaves viewer feeling grubby, queasy Reviewed by Anson Moore on June 17, 2020 Rating: 5

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