NEW YORK (CNS) — Over more than four decades, Bernard “Bernie” Madoff conned billions of dollars from investors as the mastermind of one of the greatest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history.
Airing Wednesday-Thursday, Feb. 3-4, 8-10 p.m. EST, “Madoff,” ABC’s two-part profile of the swindler, looks at this former NASDAQ chairman’s spectacular fall from grace.
The miniseries shows Madoff (Richard Dreyfuss) as a man living two lives. Under one guise, he’s a loving and devoted family man. But his hidden face is that of a conniving, manipulative criminal.
For most of the first half of the series, Madoff seems almost redeemable. His affection for his wife, Ruth (Blythe Danner), appears to border on adoration. He also strives constantly to keep his sons — as well as his brother, Peter (Peter Scolari) — away from the shady side of his business.
Thus, initially at least, Madoff comes across as a man who’s convinced, however misguidedly, that he’s doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. The sad reality that Madoff’s duplicity extended to every aspect of his life is revealed, though, when he begins an affair with one of his investors, Sheryl Weinstein (Liz Larsen). While a bedroom scene between the two is nongraphic, it does suggest an adult viewership.
Dreyfuss delivers a great performance, carrying the bulk of the script and striking a perfect balance between his character’s contradictory personality traits. Danner’s talents are largely wasted in the first episode. But she is given slightly more interesting material in the follow-up — as Ruth’s life completely unravels.
Director Raymond De Felitta’s style shows the influence of Martin Scorsese; he uses voiceover character commentary with freeze-frames, montages and flashy music cues. Unfortunately, the content with which De Felitta is working proves thin. The second installment feels especially stretched out.
An interesting theme running through the series is Madoff’s belief that his family has been cursed with a gene disposing them to leukemia. He seems constantly aware of this cancer growing within as first his nephew, and later his son, Andrew (Danny Deferrari), succumb to the disease. Does Madoff secretly see these losses as a fitting return for his wrongdoing?
Peter also wrestles with right and wrong, asking his rabbi if someone can sin “a little, but be essentially good.” The rabbi explains that no matter how little the miss, it’s still a miss. Peter is currently serving 10 years in federal prison.
Madoff himself, whose victims included everyone from billionaire investors and nonprofit organizations to retirees, was ultimately sentenced to 150 years of incarceration.
This dramatization of his undoing, and the clan dynamics that surrounded it, drives home the familiar message that not everything that glitters turns out to be gold. Whether reinforcing that well-worn admonition justifies four hours of television time is another question.
“Madoff” is rated TV-PG/L, S — parental guidance suggested; infrequent coarse language; some sexual situations.
Macina is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.