The Wizard of Lies

Movie review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Wizard of Lies Movie Poster Image
Dark and dramatic biopic profiles Madoff and his crimes.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 133 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Illegal financial activities lead to serious and devastating consequences. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Madoff doesn't take responsibility for his actions. 


Arguing, yelling, threats. Suicide occurs; a body is shown hanging from a ceiling.


Crude sexual conversations; words such as "p---y," "c--k."


"F--k," "s--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking (cocktails, wine, beer); cigarette, cigar smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Wizard of Lies contains mature themes, ranging from illegal investment activities and public shaming to suicide (including a man visibly hanging from the ceiling). Cursing is frequent, drinking is visible, and cigarette and cigar smoking is shown. There's some strong sexual innuendo and crude references, too. Younger viewers probably won't be interested, but those old enough to remember the Bernie Madoff scandal may find it an interesting watch. 

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What's the story?

Based on the New York Times' Diana B. Henriques' book of the same name, THE WIZARD OF LIES is an HBO film that highlights events that took place before, during, and after the 2008 arrest of former NASDAQ chairman and financier Bernie Madoff. When Madoff's (Robert De Niro) sons Andrew (Nathan Darrow) and Mark (Alessandro Nivola), who work in his securities firm, learn that their father has been operating a Ponzi scheme for over 15 years, they turn him in to the authorities. While they and their mother, Ruth (Michelle Pfieffer), endure years of chaos and public shaming as a result of his actions, thousands of investors' lives are ruined as a result of one of the largest financial frauds in U.S. history. 

Is it any good?

This dark and dramatic film paints an unsympathetic picture of Bernie Madoff, who displays a lack of guilt about, and an emotional disconnection from, the pain and destruction his actions caused. It also reveals how Madoff seemed oblivious to how this would affect his own loved ones, especially his wife and kids. It also shows how he justifies using his brother Peter (Michael Kostroff) and his chief financial officer Frank DiPascali (Frank Azaria) to unknowingly keep the scheme going. It also underscores how little responsibility Madoff takes for what he knew he was doing to his investors. 

Much of The Wizard of Lies focuses on how the financier's actions broke his family apart, the devastation of which ultimately led to his son's suicide. But the narrative feels uneven, thanks to scenes consisting of vague interpretations of how investors were conned, to some overly dramatic moments. Nonetheless, Robert De Niro's interpretation of Madoff is convincing. The inclusion of archival media coverage of the events and the appearance of Diana B. Henriques playing herself give the overall story presentation a sense of legitimacy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about some of the financial themes discussed in The Wizard of Lies. What is a Ponzi scheme? Why is it illegal? Why did the failure of Madoff's scheme lead to the financial ruin of so many people? 

  • How did the media cover the Madoff scandal when it was unfolding? What kinds of consequences did it have at the time? What about today? Does The Wizard of Lies offer something that past media coverage or representations of Bernie Madoff does not?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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