‘The Wizard of Lies’ reviews: Robert De Niro ‘gives one of his best screen performances in years’

On Saturday, May 20, HBO premieres “The Wizard of Lies” just in time for Emmy eligibility — the cutoff is May 31. And it’s bringing out the big guns. Telling the true story of disgraced Wall Street financier Bernie Madoff, the film is directed by Oscar winner Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”) with two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro starring as Madoff and three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife Ruth. Will that be a winning combination with the TV academy? The reviews as of this writing are largely positive, if not unanimous: as of this writing it has a MetaCritic score of 68 and 64% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes.

Madoff was infamous for running a decades-long Ponzi scheme that swindled his investors out of upwards of $60 billion. He plead guilty to his crimes in 2009 and is currently serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison. The film that tells his story is “a sleek shark of a TV movie.” Based on a nonfiction book of the same name by Diana B. Henriques (who appears in the film as herself), the “adaptation is a more complex and accomplished work” than usual biopics. It’s “intimate” and “unsettling.” As for the actors, “De Niro gives one of his best screen performances in years,” and he is “well matched” by Pfeiffer.

What do you think of the Emmy chances for this fact-based prestige drama? Will it follow in the winning footsteps of HBO’s “Game Change,” “The Normal Heart” and “Bessie”? Check out some of the reviews below, and discuss this and more with your fellow TV fans in our forums.

Emmy experts are betting ‘The Wizard of Lies’ will take Best TV Movie title from ‘Sherlock’

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Ken Tucker (Yahoo!): “A sleek shark of a TV movie, ‘Wizard of Lies,’ directed by Barry Levinson and premiering on HBO Saturday night, gives us Robert De Niro portraying Ponzi-scheme king Bernie Madoff, and makes his crimes sting with renewed pain … ‘Wizard’ shrewdly transcends the rich-are-people-too genre by making Madoff’s family drama seem universal.”

Ben Travers (IndieWire): “Barry Levinson’s adaptation is a more complex and accomplished work than we’ve seen from many so-called biopics, as well as HBO Films’ best entry since ‘Behind the Candelabra’ … Rather than delivering too much of a good thing, ‘The Wizard of Lies’ is an exercise in the power of restraint — especially from its lead, Robert De Niro.”

David Sims (The Atlantic): “It’s a long, moody piece that seeks only to depict Madoff’s frustrating opaqueness and the destruction he left in his wake. ‘The Wizard of Lies,’ which airs Saturday on HBO, doesn’t try to either understand or humanize Madoff, but all the same it manages to be an intimate, unsettling portrait of a borderline sociopath.”

Noel Murray (New York Times): “Mr. De Niro gives one of his best screen performances in years as Mr. Madoff, playing that securities broker as an embittered old man … The star is well matched by Michelle Pfeiffer, returning from a brief career hiatus to play Ruth … The best scenes in ‘The Wizard of Lies’ just put Mr. De Niro in a room opposite his co-stars, and let him go to work.”

‘The Wizard of Lies’ trailer: Robert De Niro & Michelle Pfeiffer as Bernie & Ruth Madoff [WATCH]

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