April 20, 2018

The Wizard of Lies [TV movie] (2017)

Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer

Financial crimes are not an easy subject to make interesting. For one thing, the average person doesn't understand what any of it means. Secondly, there's no real action involved. The tension lies in stock prices or backdating or other yawn-inducing descriptions most people don't care about. (Which is also the reason certain people are able to get away with such crimes...)

So kudos to this movie for keeping it as interesting as possible. Aside from The Big Short (which absolutely everyone should watch, btw), this has been the second most interesting financial meltdown movie I've watched. (Grand total in that category: 2)

They do it by focusing more on Madoff's persona relationships--his wife and his two sons--than the actual crimes committed. Personally, I would have liked more nitty gritty details of just how these things were executed and covered up, but I suppose that's what Google is for. Instead, this movie set its sights on showing the involvement of Madoff family members and the toll the entire scandal took on them. It was humanizing without glossing over the viciousness of the crimes committed, which is a hard balance to achieve.

I was relatively young (well, not really paying attention) when Madoff was exposed, so I wasn't intimately familiar with the amount of vitriol his family received. And while we will probably never know the objective "truth" about their involvement, this movie certainly moved my sympathies their way. It cannot be easy to be related to a notorious criminal of any kind and the toll it takes on you must be enormous. This movie does well to highlight those effects.

Much like the movie Game Change, HBO has a way of pulling back the curtain on a certain situation to make you view it differently. Here, they show Madoff as a controlling, all-powerful figure that doesn't allow his sons to ask questions about the business or gain any insight into how things are run. Should they, then, be treated as liable for the damage their father caused? Whether or not you walk away agreeing with the narrative, they've given you something to think about. 

This wasn't the most exciting or even the most well done HBO movie. But it was thought-provoking and interesting and certainly topical. Either way, I'd rather have studios gamble on movies like this than just churn out another superhero whatever.

Final word: A new take on a national scandal

P.S. I could not stop looking at the actor portraying Mark Madoff and thinking it was Beck Beckett from SNL. I'm convinced maybe it should have been Beck Beckett. 

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