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'Wizard of Lies' Shows Clients Not in Cash Anymore
May 20, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Just when you may have thought the Bernie Madoff story couldn’t get any sadder, along comes HBO’s The Wizard of Lies.

There are no winners in The Wizard of Lies, which premieres at 8 p.m. ET Saturday. Figuratively and sometimes literally, pretty much no one gets out alive.

Adapted from the book by Diana B. Henriques, Wizard of Lies is as gloomy and foreboding as that summation suggests. The real miracle is that Robert DeNiro, as Madoff, makes him interesting enough so we keep watching for more than two hours even when we have pretty much abandoned all hope.

And even though Madoff comes across as an awful person even when he’s not stealing $65 billion from family, friends and charities.

Since Madoff has been well covered since his arrest in 2008, relatively little in The Wizard of Lies will surprise the viewer. It’s more like a well-organized overview, focusing on Madoff and his family with occasional acknowledgement of his other victims and a few of the people who worked for him.

Our initial impression is that DeNiro’s Madoff can be soft-spoken, direct and honest. That’s what a lot of his investors thought, too, and we’re as wrong as they were.

While he has the ability to charm people out of their money, with the casual confidence of the best con artists, we see that the real Madoff far too often is a cruel bully who delights in taunting and humiliating those around him, notably including his son Mark (Alessandro Nivola, on the right with Nathan Darrow and Deniro).

Spoiler alert: Mark ends up hanging himself.

At least Mark is a grown man. But when Bernie is irritated over an innocent question from his 8-year-old granddaughter, he rips into her viciously. He also seems to have no subsequent sense that this is loathsome behavior by anyone, no matter how rich and entitled.

What’s mildly curious about Wizard of Lies is that as we watch Madoff slowly march to his life term in prison, there seem to be sections where he’s trying to be what he claims he is: a basically decent man just looking to take care of his family.

Family, as we know, is often the last refuge, or rationalization, of scoundrels. Madoff is still playing that card long after both his sons are dead and his wife Ruth (Michelle Pfeiffer) has changed her name, cutting off all contact with him

That raises the question, thanks to DeNiro’s subtle performance, of whether he really believes he’s a decent person who got in over his head, or whether that’s the just the story he settled on trying to sell.

The best guess might be that he’s a cruel, unfeeling man who thinks he won because he gamed the system. To the end, for instance, he insists his investors share the blame because they were “greedy.”

The multiple passages where he rhapsodizes about his love for Ruth might also have more impact if we didn’t know that the real-life Madoff apparently maintained a long-term mistress. She isn’t referenced here.

In many ways, it feels like the more compelling Madoff story at this point would focus on his victims. But DeNiro keeps us interested in revisiting a nasty man who got rich – which, sadly, doesn’t make Bernie Madoff unique.

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What the show doesn't make clear is that, year over year, his fund(s) made double digit gains, during up markets, and down markets.
That no one doubted that was possible is credible! It only brought in more clients, who were glad to be part.
May 22, 2017   |  Reply
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