Wizard Of Lies
Before he was revolted against, he was revered. The story of perhaps the most notoriously criminal money laundering scheme in the modern age, the story behind the brilliance of Bernie Madoff is dramatically captured in the latest release from HBO Films, "The Wizard of Lies" starring Robert De Niro, premiering on the pay cable network on Saturday, May 20 at 8 pm.
Regardless of what you may think of Madoff's (as portrayed by De Niro) criminal mind, it's undeniably terrifying that the financier nearly got away with it -- the man constructed the most lucratively successful Ponzi scheme in the history of the American financial structure.
As told within the scope of the two-hour film, Madoff secured his billions while robbing his many clients of their life's security. His entire career, Madoff controlled every aspect of his businesses and established himself as a financial wizard within the industry. It would be easy to hope and imagine that the man himself was a monster and cruel, but instead, he's portrayed as a man who had a fanatical sense of entitlement - a ruthless desire to appeal to his own megalomaniacal importance - without any connection to the consequence of actions.
Within the dramatization strategically under-toned by the director, Barry Levinson the lives destroyed by Madoff's greed are graphically realized as his corruption is given a corporal existence, and leads to his inevitable downfall - though the effect is lost on the man at the center of it all. Madoff himself appears coldly unaffected, even as his family begins to unravel, including the effect it all has on his wife played by the enigmatic Michelle Pfeiffer.
The remarkably disconnected and ineptness of the pair is perfectly illustrated when the two attempt suicide by Ambien overdose. In his delusion, Madoff imagines trying to clear the air with his children and spirals through the detailed rationale behind his plan - and in the morning, after coming to, he appears to have nothing to show for it - no consciousness whatsoever. Madoff is vacuous. De Niro handles the discontent of it all with a structured ease, a natural skill for an actor of his expertise who is dedicated always to authenticity. De Niro's Madoff doesn't apologize for what he did -- and why should he?
Madoff never attempted to conceal his crime, but he bet that the powers that be would be too lazy and complacent to do anything about it, and they did just that - until Madoff just got tired of it all and threw in the towel, hanging everyone out to dry. Michelle Pfeiffer as Ruth Madoff is as dimensionally compliant as anyone caught in the whirlwind - and the conflagration of Ruth's world is as tragically and sadly conspicuous as you can imagine.
The couple's son Mark's desperate decline is perhaps the cornerstone of the film's most emotional arc, as the ill-fated, less-favored of the pair is unable to handle the turmoil of it all. His obsession with the public fallout weighs the heaviest on Mark, leading him to take his own life, even as the victims of his father's cruelty chase after resolution from the family by even suing Madoff's grandchildren for millions. Eventually, even Ruth is chided into breaking all contact with Madoff as he sits in prison; Ruth admits to Bernie even she doesn't see a future for herself. It isn't heartbreaking, but still wrenching.
The narrative doesn't work at turning Madoff into a sympathetic character. The abhorred nature of the violation of his act depicts the isolation of his crime and the psychology of how it deconstructed the man, his wife, his sons and the people who were victimized by his actions. Finally, the prison of his own moral disconnection makes for a frightening lesson -- we're all connected, and everything has a consequence.
In the end, Andy, Madoff's other son, makes an attempt at redemption - at least in the eyes of the world - and although he loses his battle to cancer, it is only a droplet in the bucket of Madoff's ultimate scheme that isolates him - a man whose only legacy will be defined by his wanton greed. And, Bernie Madoff, as illustrated in director Barry Levinson's "The Wizard of Lies," is the personification of the worst aspect of capitalism and the dangers of unchecked corruption. A lesson for all of us to be ever vigilant.
"The Wizard of Lies" starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer
premieres on HBO, Saturday, May 20.