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.