The Wizard of Lies (2017)

(On Cable TV, October 2017) Of all the things I didn’t really want to see, a sensitive, almost exculpatory look at celebrity fraudster Bernie Madoff is way up there. (If there was any justice in the world, Madoff should have fuelled a few more years of Occupy Wall Street.)  It does take a while for The Wizard of Lies to overcome this prejudice, especially at it seems to spend its first hour explaining how, aw shucks, Madoff kind of, you know, stumbled into massive pyramid schemes as a business model. But, slowly, the movie does get better. It helps that Madoff is played by Robert de Niro (finally acting, for a change) and that capable actors such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Hank Azaria (under the watchful eye of director Barry Levinson) are there to keep up their halves of dialogues. The script struggles under the weight of the accepted biopic standards, allowing itself a few fanciful moments to break the monotony. But The Wizard of Lies hits its strides during its last act, as the weight of Madoff’s criminal acts finally catch up with him well after incarceration. His name now synonymous with fraud, his wife leaves him to rot in jail and his son commits suicide. At more than two hours, this made-for HBO film is a modest success but it may not be as good as it could have been. Madoff’s warm portrayal can be infuriating, but the film does lack a bit of extra energy, especially at first, to make it compulsively watchable. Still, it’s a fairly worthwhile entry in HBO Films’ long list of biopics … and it deserved its Emmy nominations.

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