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The Wizard of Lies

What’s there to like?

Biopics have a hard row to hoe, at least as far as I’m concerned. There are the facts of the story to deal with, characters to develop, and only a couple hours to do it in. The Wizard of Lies largely manages to rise above a lot of that and deliver some nice touches.

The best decision they made was to focus on Bernie Madoff’s personal and family life through the ordeal. Obviously the scandal had tragic reverberations that affected lots of innocent people, but the family effects were where the drama was.

The most fascinating yet uncomfortable perspective was to put us in the Madoff’s shoes. We see what it’s like to be a father ruining the lives of his family. Both sons tortured inside and ultimately dead. His wife finds out her whole marriage was based on fraud, and that the man she decided to share a life on and rely on financially was lying to her and doing something terrible. In terms of the story, the biggest tragedy is how he let down the important people closest to him. That was Madoff’s biggest burden.

The very last moment of the movie is Madoff asking someone if they think he’s a sociopath. On the one hand, probably the most powerful aspect of the movie was how it led me down the path with him, bringing me close enough that I could at least understand his motivations and impulses and relate a little. Of course, on the other hand, he did have decades to reflect on the consequences of his actions and he did nothing but dig himself deeper, even with all that perspective, so it was more than a moment or two. Maybe that does make him a sociopath. Who knows? But the movie makes it a question worth thinking about.

Robert De Niro is great–no surprise there. He transforms into a rich, complicated Bernie Madoff. And there were some terrific scenes, like at a party, or a wedding, when we saw him balance his public persona, his family life, and managing the ponzi scheme all at the same time. Definitely some nice film making at times.

What’s not to like?

There’s a lot of exposition the movie feels compelled to give us, this being a biopic and all. Not sure how they’d really get around that, but some stretches felt tacked on.

I also sense there was a lot more character development that could have happened with the sons, at least in an ideal scenario. I kind of glimpsed their feelings of inner grief, but not enough to hook me.

The Verdict

Overall, it’s sort of a catch-22. The Wizard of Lies is pretty good for a biopic based on a recent book, but at the same time, at the end of the day it’s a biopic based on a recent book, which is just a tricky thing to make into great art. Solid HBO movie, though. In fact, this is sort of HBO’s sweet spot for movies.

Fine

[cross posted at loganbeaux.com]

Logan Beaux

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