The Jeffrey Epstein case — really, an impossibly massive series of cases, playing out over decades as lives were ruined by the late financier and convicted sex offender — would seem to lie at the nexus of various American obsessions. There’s wealth, naturally, and celebrity, in the form of the notable men, like Bill Clinton, drawn into the Epstein orbit. These compound together in the form of power — the one thing Epstein sought relentlessly as he courted the establishment, and the one thing he had over his victims.
“Filthy Rich: Jeffrey Epstein,” a four-part documentary coming to Netflix, doesn’t probe much deeper than that; it’s a piece that exists to confirm and to amplify what the casual news consumer ambiently knows about Epstein’s story, rather than to seed throughout deep analysis about what the case can teach us.
There’s little, here, to be interpreted; what’s put before the viewer is meant simply to be taken in. The testimony of various women whose lives Epstein’s assaults ruined is grim. Their descriptions of his acts against them — better left for the documentary itself, so that readers can experience them in context — is made yet more troubling by further discussion of self-images ruined, futures consumed by guilt and grief. “I felt so used, like I was just this dirty person,” says one victim. “Before this, I was something else.” Elsewhere, a woman recalls Epstein importing “three 12-year-old girls that he had purchased from their parents.”
Epstein’s was a sickness that demanded constant fueling, and it was one that seems widely shared among the world’s most powerful men. A telecommunications maintenance worker who visited Epstein’s Virgin Islands spread some 100 times, in his telling, claims to have seen celebrities there including Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton. That Epstein’s crimes did not demand a robust response from Alex Acosta (then a federal prosecutor in south Florida, now the former Secretary of Labor under President Donald Trump) suggests that to a certain class of person, they did not register as the grievous theft of autonomy “Filthy Rich” makes clear they were.
For the close followers of the Epstein story, the raw details are hardly news — though the breadth of his crimes may be. And this film goes broad and not deep in covering them. We don’t get much more extrapolation about what it all means in the documentary’s first three hours. Indeed, one of the most prolific talking heads throughout is James Patterson, the novelist who co-wrote a nonfiction book about Epstein and who executive produces this series: Patterson has an eye for telling detail, but he’s driven more by the impulse to summarize and marshal sources than to truly break news or to draw a larger picture.
But — happily for these people — there are many who are basically unaware of the basics of the Epstein story, and for them this series provides the service of laying out a case that’s far less sensational than it could be (if because it’s leaving opportunities to gesture towards a more sweeping story on the table). Only flicking at the idea of conspiracy, this series ultimately provides the opportunity for Epstein’s victims to give testimony. Though viewers may crave more context and analysis, “Filthy Rich” does well at amplifying voices that tended to get lost in a story about one man who took a fall and, in his nebulous and dark orbit, many who likely never will. For this, it’s a worthwhile piece of work, if a painful watch.