The rise and fall of Bernie Madoff, who’s Ponzi scheme bilked $65 billion from unsuspecting victims.
ABC’s “Madoff” puts us at the table with the controversial Madoff family; far from the word of financial schemes and high level mastery of deception. For audience members somehow unaware of the Bernie Madoff story, the attractive family sitting around the table on a sunny day could easily be a cast of characters for just about anything, but the stock photo level happiness is soon interrupted.
As Madoff (Richard Dreyfuss) takes a call warning him that a particularly powerful government agencie might be on to the discrepancies between the market trading he claims to do for his clients and what he has actually been doing, we catch a glimpse at exactly the Madoff we’re all expecting to see. A man reasonably unbothered by the risk, (reasonable considering the circumstances we come to understand better throughout the mini-series) enjoying his grandchildren’s Star of David drawings on construction paper and easing the worry of his colleague on the other end of the line.
We also see the way the Madoffs merge family and business, with adult Madoff sons Andrew and Mark, (Danni Defarrri and Tom Lipinski), along with Bernie’s niece Shana (Jamie Carroll) and her father Peter (Peter Scolari) working on the legitimate 19th floor of Madoff’s investment firm – directly above Bernie’s other family, those who share his secret on the 17th floor; keeping investors in the dark and believing in the power of their decision to give their money to Madoff to trade on the market.
In stark contrast to the behind-the-scenes look at a man with unethically gained money and power audiences may expect, we see Madoff’s life as one that is largely family-oriented, even in the face of an affair, and separate from the dark side of Wall Street that we’ve seen worked into a formula over time by directors like Oliver Stone with “Wall Street,” or Martin Scorsese with “Wolf of Wall Street” which manages to draw a sort of realism from its absurd exhibitionism and gratuitous…everything.
Instead, “Madoff” director Raymond De Felitta shows us a man who celebrates with surprise parties thrown by his family for huge accomplishments like being named Nasdaq chair, and who carries on an affair with a woman who looks like an older Barbara Streisand instead of with a flood of strippers or Wall Street groupies who spend their off time on runways; or at least who look like they could. There are, however, echoes of “Mad Men” era hiring practices and attitude that may or may not be as nostalgia worthy or even far removed from society as they are now understood and accepted to be.
Off the cuff remarks from Bernie that may or may not be interpreted as sexist don’t feel out of place. This isn’t a character we’re meant to root for; no matter how much better we feel we come to understand him. And we do come to understand him; at least a bit more. His drive to be a man who no one would feel sorry for, the road that takes him from merely determined to ruthless (perhaps without realizing himself when and where exactly things got completely out of line), and the long continuous road that would lead him to stealing from living, symbolic pillars of good in the world like author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wisel (David Margulies); drawing on common ties of a shared faith and cultural background to do it.
The second half of the “Madoff” mini-series feels like a leisure ride through the market crash of 2008 through the eyes of the other side, unless you happen to have been a major banker or investor at the time, and also puts the focus on the victims. This is done not only by shining a light on those who invested with Bernie Madoff, but also on his family; perhaps victims of over victimization in the miniseries. The focus returns to life behind the headlines as things come to a close, and life after exposal goes on for the Madoffs and the people they know.
“Madoff,” which will air in early February, is based on “The Madoff Chronicles” book by Brian Ross, who also works as a consultant on the mini-series. Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner as Bernie and Ruth Madoff will soon contend with Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer when HBO releases it own Bernie flick this year.
“Madoff” airs Wednesday, Feb. 3rd & Thursday, Feb. 4th at 8/7c on ABC