‘The Wizard Of Lies’ Review: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer Star In HBO Docudrama Based On Bernie Madoff


Wall Street conman Bernie Madoff spearheaded a $65 billion Ponzi scheme that victimized all of those who invested with him.

With Madoff, no one was safe as he used the trust those around him had in his character in order to steal their life savings, leaving friends and family members completely broke.

Based on the book of the same title by New York Times financial reporter Diana Henriques, HBO’s adaptation of the Madoff story portrays the situation as one where the intermediate family was unaware of what Bernie (played by Robert DeNiro) was doing to his clients. In fact, the movie highlights just how much Bernie’s wife, Ruth (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), and sons Mark and Andrew were kept in the dark by the senior Madoff. So much so that it gives an impression that Bernie didn’t respect his sons or believe they were competent enough to handle his business. Madoff claims he kept his sons at arms-length to protect them from being involved and ultimately in trouble when the truth came tumbling out.

After 50 years of marriage, Ruth Madoff is completely blind-sided by Bernie’s arrest and contends to know nothing about his business dealing that led to her own sister being broke after losing everything to the very Ponzi scheme her husband was in control of. When Bernie was sentenced to 150 years, she had to move in with that same sister. Caught in the middle, Ruth is forced to choose between her husband Bernie, and their kids, who turned in their father when the FBI put pressure on the brothers.

The movie really takes the time to point out how little Madoff realizes he hurt people his business was connected with. In one segment of the movie, Bernie tells Henriques (in one of her many interview clips shown at different portions of the movie with Bernie in prison) that he always warned those who invested so deeply into his business dealings. Somewhere in his mind, Madoff truly believed that the blame didn’t lay at his feet for those who lost money.

The Wizard Of Lies views things from the angle that Madoff’s only accomplice with the handling of the scheme was Frank DiPascali. DiPascali and Bernie were the only two who had control over the bilked funds of Madoff’s investors.

Michelle Pfeiffer delivers a solid performance as Ruth Madoff, a kept, or pampered woman who, by the end of the film, is completely broke living off of meager means.

De Niro turns in another good outing (his first as the star of a cable movie) as the odd, emotion-free cash machine Bernie Madoff who spends his day moving from person to person looking for the next $200-$300 million to high-jack for his personal “follow the shell” parking-lot game. The Oscar winner portrays a man who has convinced himself that those around him that invest with him deserve little to no sympathy. In another of his interview clips with Henriques, Bernie says to her, “People here always ask me how come I never ran. The truth is it didn’t even occur to me. I guess it’s because I never thought of what I was doing as stealing. These people had a little greed in them too. They didn’t want to look too hard, they looked just far enough. They’re accomplices in some way too… There’s lack of honesty on their behalf and I’m willing to take responsibility for their behavior.”

During the two-hour and 13-minute of run time in The Wizard Of Lies, Madoff only sounded self-aware of any of his issues at the very end of the movie. While talking with Henriques, Bernie talks about a psychiatric expert that was comparing him to serial killer Ted Bundy. “He killed innocent people,” Bernie said. “I warned people…Do you think I’m a sociopath?”

Rating: TV-MA

The Wizard Of Lies— ★★★★☆ (four stars out of five)

Director: Barry Levinson

Running time: 2:13

[Featured Image by Craig Blankenhorn/HBO]