Madoff: EW review
The first of two — count em, two! — Bernie Madoff productions coming to your TV this year, this two-night miniseries/movie from ABC stars Richard Dreyfuss as the infamous Ponzi schemer and Blythe Danner as his wife, Ruth. The other one, titled The Wizard of Lies and starring Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer, will debut on HBO later this year.
Maybe wait for that one. Or at least, don’t invest too much into this lightweight, four-hour snooze. Madoff, which follows the con man’s rise and fall over the course of years, wants to trick you into thinking it’s a modern Goodfellas rather than a soapy, narrated-to-death Bernie Madoff primer.
Not even the interesting stuff is terribly interesting: Bernie’s wide-reaching web of deceit doesn’t unravel as much it just un-happens in a way that’s nearly impossible to care about. Madoff is heavy on the juicy, tabloid-ready aspects of the story more than emotional nuance, which makes for some fun here and there in a sort of sinister way; consider it an ABC trademark. (Revenge, anyone?) So it gets points for that. But if you’re looking for any insight into his psyche or deep glimpses into the mind of a crook — let alone any commentary on the matter — look elsewhere. Other than a few flashes of pathos, the script rarely delves past the surface.
What we do get from inside his mind is lots (and lots) of narration. And as with any complex financial story, it does help to have a guiding voice (or many, a la The Big Short) to drive home what exactly is happening, and why it’s bad. Madoff definitely clears that bar. But it tends to rely on narration too often, to the point where it sometimes replaces action altogether, leaving little room for any genuine drama to build. It has all the tension of a Wikipedia page.
If there’s a winning aspect here, it’s the performances. Dreyfus, especially, really leans into his role, and it’s hard not to smile when you see the former Mr. Holland play a villain with such giddy, magnetic enthusiasm. Danner does her best with what she’s given, but this is ultimately Dreyfuss’ show.
Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good, keeping much of the miniseries in the red. Not even Dreyfuss and Danner’s best efforts can’t save Madoff from itself.