After decades of movie output that’s not so much undone the largely fantastic body of work that includes Raging Bull and Goodfellas, but redefined his character type in modern film, HBO’s The Wizard of Lies sees him return to his serious, brooding, arguably best self.
It’s set around the unbelievable true story of Bernie Madoff, the long-time, successful stock broker who turned out to be a multi-billion-dollar-dealing fraudster, amassing obscene amounts of clients’ money to create a Ponzi scheme. It’s a tale of the greatest of swindles on the hugest of scales, so naturally, the moment he comes clean near the start, the FBI are all over him, his family, and the entire business.
Admittedly, this made-for-TV film is long – Scorsese drama long. Its two-and-a-half hour runtime outstays its welcome, and comes across as a less intense version of Marty’s 2015 hit, The Wolf of Wall Street, only this effort’s helmed by Barry Levinson – with a mixed bag of credits to his name, ranging from Rain Man, to Sphere, to Rock the Kasbah.
That said, The Wizard of Lies is a taut, gripping drama that bears the quality and class you’d expect from an HBO production. Think House of Cards (minus the Oval Office) or indie stock broker drama Margin Call, with its intense unravelling of greed, corruption, and high stakes business dealings, albeit at a much more methodical pace.
The Wizard of Lies could spell a brief resurgence in De Niro’s latter years. He offers a layered, contemplative performance, surrounded by a solid, more-than-capable cast that act and react to his shady dealings masterminded all on his lonesome. Michelle Pfeiffer, as Bernie’s wife, Ruth, seems appalled, shocked and angered by his actions. Similarly, their two sons Mark (Alessandro Nivola) and Andrew (Nathan Darrow) cannot comprehend the betrayal at the hands of their father. The impact on his sons’ lives is a stark reminder of the severity of Bernie’s life-destroying deception, and the fragility of the human spirit.
Sadly, there’s no sense of finality or conclusion – unlike the somber ending to Jordan Belfort’s demise and prospective future in The Wolf of Wall Street, Bernie is left broke, broken, and totally alone. Locked up with family ties severed on the outside, his own blood disowning him for the heinous crimes he’s committed, is perhaps the biggest thing he sacrifices.
The Wizard of Lies is available to watch online on Sky On Demand until 2nd July. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on-demand on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The contract-free service includes access to a range of Sky channels, from Sky Atlantic to FOX UK. A 7-day free trial is available for new subscribers.