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The Wizard of Lies (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 133 minutes.

OK for children.

At least a decade ago I often took a walk around Marina del Rey with a good friend. She would occasionally tell me about this person she and her husband had invested their money with who had been averaging double digit returns for years and years. I asked her about it and inquired if I could investigate investing with him. She said that would not be available to me because you had to be Jewish. She said that over the years they had quadrupled their money.

I asked her if they had ever taken anything out of it and she said they had not. I told her that at the very minimum they should at least take their original investment out, if not some more, and I encouraged her to do so. She called me a few days later and told me that they had withdrawn a substantial sum, but that they still had huge profits left in the deal.

A few years later when the Madoff scandal broke, I immediately called her and asked her if she had heard about Madoff and suggested that she should take more out of the deal she was in. That’s when she broke to me the bad news that Madoff was the guy with whom they were invested.

She was lucky because they at least got back their original investment. But the problem with this film, which tells the Madoff (Robert De Niro) story from the time he was caught until the present, is that it doesn’t show what an evil sociopath the guy was.

Directed by Barry Levinson from a screenplay by Sam Levinson (son of the director), Samuel Baum, and John Bunham Schwartz, based on a book by Diana Henriques, Madoff is pictured as a man who got started on a Ponzi scheme and couldn’t think of any way out when, in fact, he was a vicious predator who never wanted to find a way out. The film pays scant attention to the many people whose lives he ruined. They were not only large Jewish charities, many of them were old friends of his who invested their life savings and were totally wiped out without a chance of starting over and recouping what they had lost because they were so old. The fact that he went to jail for 135 years as an old man is of little consequence. The shame of this film is it that shows Madoff to be just a nice old guy who finally got caught.

The way the film portrays Madoff is not De Niro’s fault; that’s the way the script is written. So De Niro’s performance, skewed as it is toward gentleness, is not the story of this movie. Rather, it is Michelle Pfeiffer who steals the show as Madoff’s wife, Ruth. Not only does Pfeiffer play her as a woman wronged because she had no clue of what her evil husband was doing, but she is a remarkable look-alike for the real Ruth.

Despite its sympathetic portrayal of an evil man, the movie is interesting and worth seeing.