Review | Dirty Money

By Daniel Hart
Published: January 26, 2018 (Last updated: January 1, 2024)
Dirty Money - Netflix Documentary Series - Review

You do not need to study finance to understand that dirty money exists. In recent times, its become increasingly obvious that those at the top are playing a game in an entirely different universe. With a scandal a day on every news outlet, the investigatory public get angrier with each case. Tax avoidance leaks, voter hacking, Weinstein; they all have something in common – money. With wealth comes power.

The reason why I am stating the obvious is that this documentary will not surprise you whatsoever. You already know that there is a growing disconnect between the upper echelons of society and the middle class. Dirty Money gives you good reasons to watch and become irritatingly angered by blatant lawbreaking. The Netflix Original docu-series is split into six episodes, each with a different subject matter. Allow this review to break it down for you:

Episode 1 – “Hard Nox”

Volkswagen Scandal - Dirty Money - Netflix Series - review

Ah, Volkswagen. Don’t you wonder why large corporations never think long term or at least think about the short term ramifications of manufacturing technology that can hurt millions of people? Recently, Apple’s admission regarding their iPhone batteries was a glowing example of pressure at the top to make exponential profits. The fat cats never feel afraid of the FBI until the s**t hits the fan.

In the case of the opening episode of Dirty Money, Volkswagen lied to consumers for years regarding their “green clean Diesel cars”. You may remember their shares dropping magnificently when this happened. “Hard Knox” is a strong opening episode. It starts with a flimsy beginning by showing Adolf Hitler admiring a Volkswagen. Fortunately, it swiftly changes its tact with compelling events that arose from the Volkswagen fuel emissions scandal. It really drives home the seriousness of their deceitful tactics. By blindfolding the consumers they have killed many American lives through pollution. This is the strongest episode in the batch.

Episode Grade – A

Episode 2 – “Pay Day”

Scott Tucker - Dirty Money - Netflix Series - Review

Whenever I have to endure a payday loan advertisement, I cringe inside. The private loan companies always manage to dress it up with shiny slogans and an endorsing c-listed celebrity. In the case of Dirty Money episode 2, “Pay Day”, the case study was Scott Tucker. He is the owner of a payday loan business and fancies himself as a racing driver. He has been indicted by the USA for targeting unsuspecting and vulnerable Americans. The accusation is that his company provide small loans with undisclosed charges, inflated interest rates and incomprehensible rules.

“Pay Day” is the most peculiar episode. It does not play out a scandal and conveys the story from both sides. You witness interviews from the victims and then it slides in Scott’s take on his innocence. This is whilst you see his expensive cars get taken away. The fact that the episode shows two sides of the coin, makes it an intriguing episode. You have to figure out your own opinion.

Episode Grade – B

Episode 3 – “Drug Short”

Valeant pharmaceuticals - Netflix Series - Review

Of course, Dirty Money has a pharmaceutical episode. Right now in the UK, the healthcare system is on its arse, whilst the USA are wondering how much the administration is going to screw them over with healthcare reforms. The documentary uses Valeant Pharmaceuticals as a case study into how some of these companies do not care whatsoever in the public interest. The company in question has such a low investment in research and development that it is criminal. The primary goal is all about acquisition.

“Drug Short” provides no illusions or defence to the boardroom investors in the pharmaceutical industry. Dirty Money gives the audience a hard-hitting account of the rise and fall of the empire which was Valeant.

Episode Grade – A

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Episode 4 – Cartel Bank

HSBC - Dirty Money - Netflix Series - Review

If I am honest, the criminal relationship between drug cartels and banks was something I had the least knowledge of going into this episode. Little did I know that HSBC was one of the primary banking functions for Mexican drug cartels. The banking giant helped them launder millions of dollars.

This is perhaps one of the most frustrating episodes because it is primarily aimed at bankers. I find at this level it is extremely challenging for a documentary to get direct sources from the suspect. “Cartel Bank” does use Senator Elizabeth Warren and dogged journalists to help unfold a story. You could argue that the facts read in the bank accounts…

Episode Grade – B

Episode 5 – The Maple Syrup Heist

The Maple Syrup Heist - Dirty Money - Netflix Series - Review

This episode completely threw me off guard. When I first saw The Maple Syrup Heist I immediately thought Dirty Money was trolling me. What I did not know is that in Canada syrup is worth more than oil. There is a governance lockdown with strict regulations to prevent independents from selling it themselves unless they do it through the cogs of the Federation. There are three sides to this episode; the small independents running their businesses under the jurisdiction of the Federation, the syrup cartel and The Maple Syrup Heist. The entire ordeal sounds like a movie pitch.

This episode proves that anything can have illegal value if the government are involved. The economic landscape of Maple Syrup is fascinating.

Episode Grade – B

Episode 6 – The Confidence Man

Donald Trump - Dirty Money - Netflix Series - Review

Let’s be honest, this was the episode everyone was waiting for when binge watching Dirty Money. It will not be long before Donald Trump tweets his thoughts on this series.

It has become the norm that Trump, which is essentially a brand, is now the President of the United States. Nothing he does surprises. “The Confidence Man” is a well put together episode but tells us nothing new. Yes, we know he inherited his daddy’s money. Yes, we know he has been sued over 100 times. And it is public knowledge that he has endured many business failures. The angle Dirty Money is trying to take is that he never expected to be President and he is using it for business reasons. It doesn’t take a documentary to work this out.

“Confidence Man” is entertaining but I am so used to Trump bashing that I wish it offered something new.

Episode Grade – C

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Is Dirty Money worth the watch?

The exposure Dirty Money gives is the main strength of this Netflix Original. Unlike Icarus where it is left unopen (understandably), it is refreshing to watch a documentary that provides many final conclusions. Some even as recent as within the last year.

This is not the strongest docu-series in the Netflix library but it is certainly the heaviest and the most fact-based.


Dirty Money collates six scandals together to create a satisfying and revealing docu-series which leave you wondering who else is up to no good. Here we are, minions, waiting for the next scandal.

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