Robert De Niro Can Do Anything: HBO’s The Wizard of Lies Premieres at MoMA
Honoring Robert De Niro at this year’s Chaplin Award Celebration at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on Monday, actor after actor acknowledged that he could do anything, referring to drama, comedy, and other film genres. Could Robert De Niro top an already amazing career? By Thursday, another brilliant performance premiered at MoMA: As Bernie Madoff in the HBO movie, The Wizard of Lies, he is the consummate con artist.
So how do you make a compelling movie out of material so well known? You can start with De Niro’s nuanced performance, scheming deep pocket tycoons, keeping his family in the dark. Framing his story of false investments and his family’s demise, is Madoff in prison in an interview with New York Times reporterDiana Henriques. Under Barry Levinson’s brilliant direction, the film flashes back to key scenes we all know from the riveting story as it played out in the wake of the financial market’s collapse in 2008 and beyond. Those who had invested with Madoff, feeling safe and lucky, had a rude awakening. There was no there there in his investment empire. But how did this moving train become such a giant wreck? What were they thinking?
Alessandro Nivola plays Mark, the son who ends up hanging himself with his toddler in the next room. As Alessandro described performing his character’s crash, Barry just let him loose in the kitchen with his cell phone, trying to reach his wife in Florida, and his brother Andrew (Nathan Darrow) who by this point was distancing himself. The nightmare of learning the father who so dominated every aspect of your identity and place in the world had put you in such jeopardy had reached crisis point. The question, did the family know/ how could the family not know the criminal operations taking place on the lipstick building’s 17th floor, propels this tragedy forward.
Madoff’s wife Ruth, a superb Michelle Pfeiffer, is a mystery. A child woman, as she says often enough so that you believe her innocence: from the time they were teens, Bernie was her life. She never made a decision beyond the apartment’s décor. Keeping up with Ruth, Pfeiffer said that Ruth was now in touch with her grandchildren, and kept her distance from Bernie. Speaking to Henriques, who portrays herself, De Niro’s last scene has Bernie grimacing at a newspaper comparison to gruesome serial killer Ted Bundy. No, this “wizard of lies” created huge destruction based on alternative facts, a self-deluding non-reality; this kind of evil is a prescient vision of someone else.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.