“Am I a sociopath?” Those are the final words uttered by Bernie Madoff (De Niro) in THE WIZARD OF LIES. It comes after an over two-hour crash course history lesson in one of the greatest Ponzi schemes, as well as the man behind it. It’s not a question for the audience to ponder as the end credits roll, but it’s more of a genuine question on Madoff’s end as he sits behind bars. It’s only for our benefit so we can reaffirm what we’ve learned. Yes, he is a sociopath.
Much of THE WIZARD OF LIES is a chance for the audience to take a peek behind the headlines. In 2008, the Wall Street fraud was placed in handcuffs. What followed in the eyes of the general populous was one of the few to be punished in the aftermath of the 2007 financial crash. For those looking to unearth a little more, like in THE BIG SHORT, you’re going to be severely disappointed. But what you will get out of THE WIZARD OF LIES is an engrossing character study.
Madoff isn’t a good guy. Ever. We never see the embattled thief in any scenario where he’s played for sympathy, as he shouldn’t be. We do see those around him, like friends and family; get sucked into the black hole of trouble he’s created. It begins with co-workers, who feel torn by their allegiance to Bernie, but still help the feds dig up dirt on their employer. We do develop a twinge of sympathy, but we’re also generously reminded that they were a cog in the machine and they were not ignorant to their devious duty.
The real emotional reactions come from the Madoff family. His wife, Ruth (Pfeiffer), remains faithful through it all, despite suspicions of Bernie’s infidelity. There’s a rough moment when Ruth laments that her life will be non-existent since her money is essentially stolen and her personality only goes as far as her wealth. It’s not only a commentary on America’s wealthiest, but a tragic glance at how empty they truly are without the almighty dollar.
As for Bernie’s two sons, it’s a can of worms that you’ll feel bad for watching as the movie opens it. Not only are they generally passed over from taking over their father’s company, but they have no meaningful connection to the man who still tries to control their lives like they’re toddlers. Even watching Bernie belittle his son’s families is rough for parties involved, the sons and the audience.
THE WIZARD OF LIES is wonderfully directed by Barry Levinson, who seems to relish living inside Bernie’s tortured mind. Levinson enters a different creative atmosphere in Bernie’s vivid nightmares, conjuring up visual horrors that might make the most pure of heart feel bad for the man who scammed hundreds of millions of dollars from thousands upon thousands of people. Levinson utilizes everyone to their best ability, making THE WIZARD OF LIES a magnificent acting vehicle for its aging actors. You might not learn much about the corruption populating Wall Street, but you’ll have a delightful time and humbling experience watching them flail as their reign of fiscal terror comes to an end.
Video: (1080p HD Widescreen 1:78:1) Levinson’s vision is captured beautifully on this Blu-ray.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio mixing is flawless and the soundtrack is underwhelming.
Cast Interview (7:31): These cast interviews aren’t actually interviews more than it’s just a couple of snippets of full interviews spliced with film footage. This feature doesn’t add much in the way of pulling back the curtain and showing anything remotely behind-the-scenes. It’s very reactionary on the actor’s ends.