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MCN Review: HBO's 'The Wizard of Lies'

The title is revealing, in terms of whether or not this HBO Films look at Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme will spread blame beyond Madoff (played Robert De Niro) to other members of his family, mainly wife Ruth (Michelle Pfeiffer) or sons Mark (Alessandro Nivola) and Andrew (Nathan Darrow).

He does lie when he says that he acted alone: The decision to set up fake accounts with fake trades to support fake income paid to investors was his, but Madoff had plenty of help carrying out the massive fraud from Frank DiPascali, the crude henchman played here to perfection by Hank Azaria.

Anytime the sons tried to find out more about the secretive Madoff advisory business, though, Bernie bluntly put them in their place and made poor Mark feel he must apologize even for asking.

De Niro’s Madoff doesn’t exude charm. At times, he sounds a bit like Jimmy “the Gent” Conway from Goodfellas when getting angry, scolding his 8-year-old granddaughter for bothering him with questions at dinner about Wall Street’s meltdown, for example. Mostly he’s either stressed out and edgy or passively trying to gain sympathy after getting caught.

Diana B. Henriques, the New York Times reporter who interviewed Madoff in prison (and whose book on Madoff is a source for the screenplay), plays herself and helps hold the story together nicely, asking Madoff the hard questions and getting mostly evasive answers.