DeNiro & Pfeiffer: Wizard of Lies

Watching the recent HBO movie, Wizard of Lies, familiarizing myself with the story of Bernie Madoff was like watching a modern twist on Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy, Doctor Faustus. Madoff’s hubris gets the better of him over a period of eighteen years after selling his soul to begin a hedge fund and fraudulent operation which over time grows into an insidious secret monster. In 2008, he told his sons, and they turned him. Thousands of investors suffered, families, including his own, were destroyed and now he rots in jail with his accusors hoping he suffers eternal damnation. Here’s a timeline of his history if you are interested from CNN, Bernard Madoff Time Line. 

The HBO film directed by Barry Levinson and written by Sam Levinson, Sam Baum, and John Burnham Schwartz, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Diana B. Henriques focused on the relationships of his family and his wife of over 50 years, Ruth. Bernie and Ruth Madoff backstory.

DeNiro gives an impressive performance who manages to portray the human side of the man with varying emotions from bellicose barking to stone-faced resignation.  The strongest moments of the film are when he is interacting with his wife, Ruth, played perfectly by Michelle Pfeiffer. She simply nailed it. Her accent, her dependency on her “lifeguard”, their intrinsic life put her in a heart-breaking situation several times. In fact, if Pfeiffer had not starred in the film or had a sizable chunk of the narrative, it would have been another biopic; a mediocre, flash-back narrative that’s overdone and predictable. Rent this on Amazon for fine acting by DeNiro and Pfeiffer. 4/5. 

Was Madoff evil? A sociopath? When you are on top of the world, with all the power (he created NASDAQ), and are revered by contemporaries and more power than the President, how could one avoid the lure of manipulation and greed? At the very least, invincibility was his cloak and he became larger than life. Madoff said he thought, in the beginning, he could fix his problems, and then smooth over the bending of the rules. That was his downfall. He could not admit he was at fault. He was addicted to power. He was addicted to his Ponzi Scheme–regardless of the consequences.

What exactly, did he do wrong? For almost twenty years, Madoff convinced rich and poor clients they were buying into an elite private hedge fund. He funneled their money to other clients, who believed the payments to be deserved returns on shrewd financial planning. When his escapades were revealed in December 2008, 65 billion imaginary dollars evaporated. Elie Wiesel and Steven Spielberg were victims as well as thousands of “ordinary” folks. There’s a cool moment in the film where his victim’s faces make a montage of Bernie Madoff’s face. A nice touch.

According to the film, Madoff felt relief he went to jail–a self-imposed recovery institution that will last long after he naturally dies. They say money is the root of all evil; Madoff is the personification of the maxim.

17 thoughts on “DeNiro & Pfeiffer: Wizard of Lies

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  1. The drive for money and power coupled with collateral damage along the way is always a sad tale. I think that there may be many similar operations in existence, but none as large as Madoff’s was. I look forward to seeing the film.

  2. Great to see Michelle getting a good role, and running with it. I hadn’t heard of this film, as I don’t have Amazon TV, or HBO. I will certainly look out for it, based on your review.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Hi Pete. I bet you would approve. I just go to Amazon.com and rent it for 3.99. I would never be able to see half of the films I see without it since I live in a rural area and have no access to independent, interesting films outside the mainstream. I don’t have HBO. Anyway, I was happy for Michelle; it was a meaty role and she enhanced the film greatly because of her performance.

  3. I do like Michelle Pfeiffer and glad to see her working again, though I have no desire to see ‘Mother’, I’ll keep an eye out for this one. She does have a resemblance to Mrs. Madoff.

    1. She was physically perfect and then blossomed right before my eyes. Michelle disappeared and I was hooked she was Ruth. As far as Mother goes, I will rent it; seems like people either loved it or were meh about it.

    1. Welcome back, friend. Yes, there’s one I’ve been meaning to rent. I’m happy she’s resurrecting her career. Another film I’m needing to see is ‘The Killing of a Sacred Dear’. Sounds interesting.

  4. good to see you Pete.. Im doing well, , thak you, How goes it with you? Cindy I just received the Deer today, along with the girl who invented kissing whih i just watched. i liked the characters and some of the directing, but hated the script. Lookin forward to seeing the Deer tomorrow. Mother had its good and bad points . sort of a cross between rosemarys Baby and the Exterminating Angel.

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