Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Wizard of Lies Movie Review

The Wizard of Lies (2017)
Watch The Wizard of Lies with Amazon Prime + HBO Subscription // Buy the book
Written by: Diana Henriques (based on the book by), Sam Levinson, Samuel Baum, John Burnham Schwartz (screenplay)
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Starring:  Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Hank Azaria

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

A chronicle of Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme, which defrauded his clients of billions of dollars.

Analagous to The Big Short, which serves to educate viewers on how and why the housing bubble burst, The Wizard of Liesd oesn't have nearly as broad a scope. It's insight into a sociopath that stole for forty years or more and justifies it, blaming others enjoying the spoils of his riches. He rode the wave until it crashed and only gave it up when he couldn't sustain it.
Watch it.

This story is crazy. Madoff ran a Ponzi scheme for thirty years defrauding people of more than fifty billion. He wrote the rules for NASDAQ, and he was on numerous boards and counsels. During that time, one of the top guys on Wall Street, Madoff, was a fraud.

While the FBI and FCC grille one of his sons on how he couldn't know what his father did, the son turns it around on them and asks how they missed it. How do you put a guy like this in charge of so much?

Pfeiffer plays Madoff's wife, and I had to check if she really looks this old. She doesn't. It's good makeup and acting. De Niro is perfect as Madoff. HBO is selective when they pick movies to produce, but they always produce solid movies.

This shares a few similarities to The Big Short (2015), but this is less educational and more of a character study on a sociopath. This is a much narrower scope. Madoff claims he didn't like what he was doing and felt trapped, but he didn't mind giving himself a nice pay check. He had numerous nice houses.
I like the subtlety of this movie. We start with the the well respected Madoff, and slowly unravel the character. We see a scene where he steamrolls a waiter and his son, telling his grown son to eat lobster even though the son says no. Madoff is a self centered jerk. I'm guessing people wanted to work with him because he made money. It can't be for the company. While being a jerk could be one way to protect his family and stop them from asking questions about the truth, he's a jerk all the time.

His sons, according to the movie, didn't know about the illegal activities, but public opinion disagrees and that's understandable.
While people ask him and his sons where they stashed the stolen money, the public doesn't realize that Madoff gave the stolen money to investors. You got to pay to play. He paid for new clients by giving returns to the existing clients. That's the nature of a Ponzi scheme. All of his clients have the 'stolen money.' Of course a fair amount of money paid for everything his family has, but his family is left in shambles, and they can never recover. He's unwilling to admit even that.

This movie has a great structure. We start with his arrest, which is the only scene you could start this movie with. We then jump into an interview and cut in various scenes that build this character for the viewer. We get a great sense of who he is. I don't know how Madoff feels in real life, but in the movie he's proud of what he's done. He's proud that he fooled so many for so long. He justifies everything he's done and blames the investors for being too greedy. He told them to only invest half of their money because the market is volatile, but he had no problem taking it all if they offered all. He's sanctimonious, unwilling to take responsibility. It's someone else's fault. When the U.S. Marshalls seize his assets, he complains that they're taking everything. That's rich considering his crime, and according to this movie he has no remorse.

I loved the subtlety of this movie. Its constantly pushing you to make a determination on Madoff, but the end blatantly asks the viewer if he's a sociopath. I had drawn that conclusion long ago, but it is a good way to end the movie. The interviewer questioning him throughout the movie is Diana Henriques, the person who wrote the book on which the script is based.

I am kind of curious as to how the gross number he defrauded investors of was calculated. What were the returns he posted versus the market? He artificially inflated his returns versus the market and at one point he comments to an associate that if they planned it right, they could have absolved themselves of the whole illegal venture during the 2008 stock market crash. How much would his clients have gotten if there gains were based directly on the market? I don't want to diminish his crime, but it's easy to inflate his numbers and I think Madoff himself would prefer to side with the larger number.

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