TV Recap: Madoff



ABC’s original movie event details how Bernard “Bernie” Madoff (Richard Dreyfuss) ran the biggest scam in U.S. history and how it came crashing down during the worldwide economic crisis in 2008.

It’s tough to make sense of economics. It’s so convoluted that most people can’t tell you how it works. Even the world’s economists and politicians have vastly different interpretations on how the pieces fit together. But over the past few years, in the aftermath of the “Great Recession,” Hollywood has taken an increased interest in the subject. There’s even a movie about the housing crisis nominated for Best Picture right now. But the question is how do you make finance understandable? More importantly, how do you make it entertaining?

These are two things that Madoff struggles with. While the Oscar winner certainly delivers a good performance, Dreyfuss can only do so much (though he doesn’t get the voice right, and neither he nor anyone else appear to age). While the movie does contain an explanation of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, it does little to help the audience comprehend it. Bernie’s voiceover makes things easier, but not easy enough. However, the movie’s worst offense is the boringness of some segments; the first night was tough to sit through, aside from a few moments.

Luckily, the movie does pick up in the second part, but not for the reason that you might expect. As Madoff’s empire crumbles around him, it’s the supporting cast, not Dreyfuss, that demands your attention. While we will likely never know for sure whether or not Madoff’s sons were complicit in their father’s crimes, it’s hard not to feel bad for Mark (Tom Lipinski) and Andrew (Danny Defarrari). Andrew, cursed with a cancer gene that runs in the family, dies of lymphoma, whereas Mark hangs himself on the second anniversary of Bernie’s arrest, which is a particularly heartbreaking outcome when you consider how his father actually tries to protect him (according to the movie). The scandal also hits their mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), rather hard. Danner doesn’t do much overall, but she makes up for it in the last hour.

Despite my praise for the secondary characters, how a movie like this handles the main character is what counts. What makes him tick? That’s what I want to know. Madoff does this, but not completely. The fact that Madoff didn’t come from a lot of money is a start, but lots of people grow up into poor families and they don’t end up criminals. Maybe he never considered his Ponzi scheme to be immoral. His investors wouldn’t have lost their money if the world economy didn’t tank (though, of course, he was lying to people and breaking the law). There are bits and pieces of evidence, but not enough to get a clear picture of what exactly drove Bernie into a life of crime.

The whole situation becomes even confusing when you factor in the TV special, Bernie Madoff: After the Fall, which aired right after the movie. The special reiterates some details from in its counterpart, but it also suggests things that the movie doesn’t cover much, like Bernie being an actual narcissist. I question the decision to tack it on. This isn’t a review of the special but, in my opinion, it undermines the idea of dramatizing the whole scandal in the first place.

Honestly, this is a difficult movie to rate. On one hand, it doesn’t captivate for the majority of its run time, and while it’s not shallow in its portrayal of Madoff, it doesn’t give us the full picture. On the other hand, Madoff successfully captures the emotional turmoil Bernie’s fall from grace sent his family into. Still, how can you not feel at least a little bad for someone who kills himself? It’s a conundrum, just like economics. But like Bernie claimed to do when looking at the market, I’ve got to trust my gut.


Aaron Sarnecky is The Pop Break’s Television Editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among other things. He is a TV/Film grad of Rowan University and the fraternal twin of staff writer Josh Sarnecky. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed.