Robert De Niro performs an oddly convincing Madoff in HBO’s ‘Wizard of Lies’

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The $65-billion Ponzi scheme run by Wall Road luminary Bernie Madoff claimed numerous victims.

Widows, in-rules and even Holocaust survivors were being bilked out of their life price savings in one particular of the major monetary frauds in U.S. history.

When Madoff was thrown in prison in 2009, the media and general public wished reparations, if not blood, seeking to his family for restitution.

But if you are to think HBO’s drama “The Wizard of Lies,” which premieres Saturday, Madoff’s sons and wife were being also victims of his deception — and compensated dearly for his sins (The film is TV’s 2nd Madoff-centered venture. ABC in February 2016 aired the authentic motion picture “Madoff,” starring Richard Dreyfuss.)

Dependent on a ebook of the very same name by New York Periods monetary reporter Diana Henriques, the Barry Levinson-directed film, which is a minimal more than two hrs, opens in 2008, when Madoff (Robert De Niro) admits to sons Mark and Andrew (Alessandro Nivola and Nathan Darrow) that he’s been moving cash all-around in a billion-dollar shell recreation.

Inspite of the fact they also work in the very same Wall Road firm as their father, they look completely blindsided by his admission.

Ruth (Michelle Pfeiffer), Madoff’s wife of 50 decades, is also flummoxed, evidently so eradicated from her husband’s misdeeds — and the world he will work in — she does not even know what the time period “Ponzi scheme” implies.

It’s a amount of cluelessness that’s as difficult to think now as it was in 2009, when Madoff was sent to prison on a one hundred fifty-year sentence.

But “The Wizard of Wall Street” is not about receiving to the reality (did they or did not they know?). It’s about the broken family bonds behind the scandal.

The Madoffs were being already a dysfunctional good deal right before the FBI stepped in. They grew to become targets for late-night time hosts and investigative segments on “60 Minutes.” The variance is that their conversation abyss and denial aided acquire down 50 percent of moneyed Manhattan.

De Niro’s Madoff is an odd duck — neither cruel nr conflicted. Performing in his 1st television venture, the Oscar winner portrays Madoff as an emotion-free of charge cash device, getting benefit wherever he can, effortlessly convincing himself that the men and women he’s bilking are mindful of the recreation he’s actively playing, producing them prepared participants in their very own downfall.

He leaves his sons out of the loop as usually as possible, later on boasting he was protecting them. But his steps usually look extra like a father who does not think in the competence of his offspring.

Previously mentioned all, the detached Madoff seems incapable of understanding just how considerably harm he’s accomplished.

“The Wizard of Lies” takes advantage of the system of Madoff’s prison interviews with journalist Henriques as bookends. Throughout one particular exchange, he suggests to her: “People in this article usually question me how come I never ever ran. The reality is it did not even manifest to me. I guess it is because I never ever thought of what I was doing as stealing.”

She reminds him that men and women shed their life price savings and their properties, and life were being destroyed. “People felt harmless with you,” she suggests, “and you betrayed them all.”

Madoff’s justification is swift and automatic: “These men and women had a minimal greed in them much too. They did not want to appear much too difficult, they appeared just considerably ample. They are accomplices in some way much too. … There is deficiency of honesty on their behalf and I’m prepared to acquire responsibly for their habits.”

As Ruth, Pfeiffer convincingly portrays a pampered girl still left with completely practically nothing — she’s shed her properties, status and, most significant, her connection with her sons.

They turned in their father and refuse to speak to Ruth until she cuts ties all collectively with the imprisoned Madoff. But he is all she understands, and Pfeiffer makes us sense that sluggish and painful awakening as Ruth arrives to conditions with the fact she much too was deceived by her lifelong associate (She and De Niro performed a couple who headed up a crime family in 2013’s “The Relatives.”)

Madoff’s sons make fewer of an effects in “The Wizard of Lies,” partly because they are intended to be weak figures in relation to their powerhouse of a father. Madoff’s appropriate-hand man, the skeezy Frank DiPascali (Hank Azaria), is the only character in the film who’s in on the scheme. And oh, what a hateful, uncouth fellow he is.

At the film’s close, the generally nonplussed Madoff is visibly upset, telling Henriques about a modern New York Periods write-up wherever a psychiatric qualified compares him to serial killer Ted Bundy.

“He killed harmless men and women,” suggests Madoff. “I warned men and women.”

Madoff then makes a comment that marks his only self-mindful second in the film.

He asks, “Do you feel I’m a sociopath?”

‘The Wizard of Lies’

Where: HBO

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Ranking: Television-MA (may well be unsuitable for young children below the age of seventeen)

lorraine.ali@latimes.com

@lorraineali

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