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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Wizard of Lies (Blu-ray)
The Wizard of Lies (Blu-ray)
HBO // Unrated // October 3, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted October 22, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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THE FILM:

Click an image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution.

Shot for HBO by veteran director Barry Levinson and starring Robert De Niro in the lead role, The Wizard of Lies chronicles the downfall of financial advisor and businessman Bernie Madoff, who was arrested in December 2008 for perpetrating the biggest financial crime in United States history. Madoff and his investment firm engaged in a Ponzi scheme with the life savings of hundreds of investors and left them with nothing. He is currently a federal prisoner at FCI Butner Medium I in Butner, North Carolina, and is set to be released on November 14, 2139. Both his sons are dead, and Madoff's wife, Ruth, now lives in relative seclusion. Levinson and De Niro, who previously worked together on Wag the Dog, play well together, and The Wizard of Lies offers strong performances across the board. The film is somewhat hollow in how it deals with the external effects of the Madoff scandal, but is more impactful as it depicts the downfall of Madoff's own family.

In the opening minutes of The Wizard of Lies we see Madoff furiously moving money between accounts. His sons, Mark (Alessandro Nivola) and Andrew (Nathan Darrow), want to know why their dad is acting strangely. Madoff sits his boys down and tells them that he has for the better part of three decades engaged in a Ponzi scheme and that the firm's earnings and investments are all a sham. Both are furious and almost immediately cut off contact with their father, who is soon arrested and charged with numerous federal white-collar crimes. He is released on house arrest pending trial and returns to his penthouse and wife Ruth (Michelle Pfeiffer) as hundreds across the United States realize their nest eggs have been completely squandered by a callous criminal. The Wizard of Lies spends the next 90 minutes moving back and forth in time, dramatizing the pre-trial proceedings in New York City and showing the audience how Madoff's lavish lifestyle and sneaky accounting led him to federal prison.

The performances here are very good, and De Niro offers his first great work in years. He expertly walks right up to the line of making Madoff a sympathetic character but never crosses it to make the man a martyr. Pfeiffer is also excellent as Ruth, and one can understand the frustration she feels at being demonized for her husband's crimes. Levinson allows the audience to decide for itself how much Ruth, Mark and Andrew knew or did not know about Bernie's business practices. While it keeps the angry investors and their families at arm's length, The Wizard of Lies focuses heavily on the internal devastation in the Madoff home. Most interesting is how the two sons deal with their parents after Bernie Madoff's arrest. The men cut off Ruth, too, and seem to blame her as much as their father for their rapid downfall. They hide inside luxury apartments and, while Mark attempts to move forward with life, Andrew becomes obsessed with every piece of news about his father and family and becomes depressed and neurotic.

Hank Azaria is also excellent as Frank DiPascali, an employee who actively aided Madoff in his deceptions, and provides breezy, take-no-prisoners advice to Madoff and others inside Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. If The Wizard of Lies has one major failing it is in how it deals with its angry victims. It is OK that the film focuses on the Madoff inner circle; it is easy to understand how devastating the loss of billions of dollars is without actually depicting it. You could make ten other movies showing the impacts of Madoff's Ponzi scheme and still have material leftover. There are a couple of dream and montage sequences that show the shouting, angry faces of duped investors, and one even plays like a horror-movie chase. Frankly, these are unnecessary and not particularly impressive. Fortunately, Levinson plays the remainder of the film more subtly, and the deaths of Andrew and Mark, by cancer and suicide, respectively, are handled more appropriately. I also wanted to see more of Pfeiffer on screen, and her work here is particularly delicate and involving. The Wizard of Lies is a strong drama with solid performances, and offers a tailored, interesting look at the center of the Bernie Madoff conspiracy.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

HBO releases The Wizard of Lies on Blu-ray with a 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image that is culled from a digital source. The film looks good but not great, and suffers from a rather flat appearance throughout. Even so, fine-object detail is adequate and texture is evident in close-up shots and on fabrics and set dressings. Black levels push toward grey, but I did not notice issues with digital noise or compression artifacts. Minor aliasing appears in pans over New York City, but digital tinkering is not an issue.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix presents the dialogue-heavy feature appropriately, with clear, uncluttered vocal work and light ambience. A couple of the aforementioned dream sequences rustle the subwoofer and rumble through the surrounds, and the soundtrack is integrated properly. A French 5.1 DTS track and a Spanish 2.0 DTS track are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc release is packed in an eco-case and includes an UltraViolet HD digital copy. The only extra is a reel of Cast Interviews (7:31/HD) is that is largely comprised of film clips.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Bernie Madoff's white-collar crimes affected countless Americans, and Barry Levinson's HBO drama The Wizard of Lies is an interesting portrait of the center of the Madoff conspiracy. The film chooses to focus on Madoff's family and not the far-reaching consequences of his Ponzi scheme. The performances are strong and Levinson shoots an involving drama. Recommended.


Additional screenshots:

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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