The Wizard of Lies directed by Barry Levinson is based true events surrounding the discovery of Bernie Madoff’s (De Niro) Ponzi scheme that defrauded his clients of well over $40 billion. His family who worked in the business still claim to this day that they had no idea.
I wish we weren’t in this sad cinematic age where the words, ‘starring Robert De Niro’ fill audiences with dread. Unfortunately, we are.
He has had a few redeeming roles under the direction of David O. Russell in Silver Linings Playbook and Joy (a film I really enjoyed), but never made a full recovery from Meet the Fockers.
The only dread that De Niro instills in this HBO original is how convincingly he plays Madoff. His mechanic responses and matter-of-fact delivery are perfect. Despite knowing little about the true scandal or the Madoff family – his performance provokes a response.
It would seem that Levinson is able to get the best out of ‘tired’ actors, as shown in Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as Ruth Madoff.
Typically typecast as full of power and sexual prowess, this is a new role for Pfeiffer. With her angled face, gigantic glasses and broad accent – she is surprisingly brilliant with how she mixes the meek and vulnerable sides with strength and courage.
Clearly the director and writers wanted to send out a somewhat biased message about the family. The narrative focus is mostly them dealing with the backlash of a crime they are adamant they didn’t commit.
The Madoff boys’ story was the real allure for me. I wanted to figure out if they really had a part to play in their father’s scandal, and to see how Levinson would portray this undoubtedly sensitive subject.
This wasn’t really touched upon, which is perhaps a sensible move.
The only criticism I have is the lack of ‘real’ news footage, interviews and photographs. Considering it is a HBO production, I was shocked it didn’t exploit those resources.
It would have given it some sorely needed context for people like me, that were not aware of this massive scandal in the world of American finance.
Overall, the film speaks for itself and gives people like me the chance to make a few shallow scratches into the enigma that is Bernie Madoff.
I hope that another, more hard-hitting take on this story could be released in years to come.
If you don’t know much about the Ponzi scheme, do yourself a favour and don’t look it up. Wait for the film to reveal the full details.