Monday, April 10, 2023

Recasting 2016 (supporting): "The Wizard of Lies"

In the wake of the 2008 recession, financier Bernie Madoff was exposed as the perpetrator of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison and died there in 2021. Director Barry Levinson's (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man) HBO movie, The Wizard of Lies, stars Robert De Niro and depicts Madoff's fall and the toll it took on his victims and family. 

I'm recasting the role of Ruth Madoff, Bernie's wife (originally portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer). First off, this is one of the few scenarios where Meryl is actually more age-appropriate for the role than the original actor was. Most of the movie takes place in late 2008, when Ruth Madoff would've been 67. Wizard of Lies was filmed in the fall of 2015, when Meryl was 66. Pfeiffer at the time was only 57, and looked young for her age. But no biggy. 

Prior to Bernie's arrest, Ruth Madoff seems like kind of a boring person. She'd been the wife of a super wealthy New York stock broker for decades (they were married when Ruth was 18), and from what I understand, she didn't do much other than live an extravagant life. She says herself in the movie that she hasn't ever really done anything on her own, and when faced with the prospect of her husband, who'd been her entire life, being whisked away to prison, I can only imagine how terrifying and discombobulating that would be. Not that I feel particularly sorry for Ruth Madoff, but from a character standpoint, it would've been very interesting to watch Meryl convey that kind of shock of reality that had to have hit her. I believe that for the most part, Madoff was in the dark about her husband's crimes, and the media's portrayal of her, on top of the dizzying scandal, had to have been humiliating. 

I really enjoy Michelle Pfeiffer, but the accent is a bit cartoonish. Other than that, I think she did a superb job in the role. This is the type of timely story and difficult topic to which I feel Meryl would be drawn to. I say "difficult" because it's easy and maybe even natural to want to vilify Ruth Madoff. It's tough to sympathize with the super rich who are responsible for wiping out the life savings of a lot of people (even if Ruth may not have been directly involved). I think it would be a challenging prospect to humanize her, which I feel Meryl would certainly manage to do. 

The Wizard of Lies was fairly well-received by critics. It has a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 67 on Metacritic. De Niro and Pfeiffer were both nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes (De Niro also earned a SAG nom), neither coming away with any wins. The movie was actually released in the spring of 2017, but with the film's 2015 filming schedule, it would've been no problem having it ready by fourth quarter 2016, thus my bumping it up a year. My selection next week for 2017 is one of the roles for which I was inspired to undertake this supporting recasting project in the first place. 


  1. Added to the list! I remember this when it was released but never got round to watching it. I agree about Meryl being more age-appropriate for the role as well and would love to see her reunite with De Niro again.

    I am struggling a bit with 2016. I recently rewatched Florence Foster Jenkins again and even more impressed by Meryl on repeat viewings. I was thinking (again) about how much stronger her chances of winning would have been had certain movies been released in a slightly different year such as your post here suggests. The Devil Wears Prada in 2005? Or FFJ in 2015? I read an interesting thread on Gold Derby about thoughts on Meryl's chances each year and I was surprised FFJ had a lot of support.

    Anyway, I was going to try to cheat and suggest Helen Mirren's role in "Eye In The Sky" a highly rated thriller with a timely political message but even though it's an ensemble I think she's the lead. I also considered a small role in "Maudie" as I would love to see Meryl work with Sally Hawkins. I also tried to imagine if the Michelle Williams part in "Manchester By The Sea" was his mother instead of his former wife, but that was pushing it too much! I'm surprised by the lack of great movies this year for older actresses, from what I can see.

    I finally went for the Olivia Colman role in "The Night Manager" because it would give Meryl an opportunity to put her own mark on a spy thriller plus the mini-series was so well received at the time and watched by many.

    1. I haven't seen Eye in the Sky or Maudie. But OMG I LOVED The Night Manager and I only watched it for the first time a few months ago! Colman's role totally could've worked for Meryl.

      Manchester by the Sea is one of my all-time favs, but I agree that it would've been too much to switch the role ha. I should check out that Gold Derby thread. Haven't seen it...

    2. Here they are Jeff, I would really like to hear what your views on the comments:

    3. I agree with what seems to be the consensus on the forum post, in that Meryl was likely the front runner only for her first two wins and for The French Lieutenant's Woman. She absolutely deserved her win for The Iron Lady, but after the SAG win for Davis, I thought Meryl would likely finish second in votes.

      I've probably mentioned before on this blog, but if we imagine Meryl having won for The French Lieutenant's Woman, and had won for her other two lead wins, she'd have three lead wins and one supporting, while Katharine Hepburn would have only three lead wins (one of which was a tie). It's probably how it should've been, even though I adore On Golden Pond. I think it's also possible that had Streep won that year, they would've given it to Jessica Lange the next year for Frances. Although it's hard to imagine Sophie not being undeniable, and Lange was awarded in supporting that year. I would LOVE if we could see historical vote totals!!!

    4. Oh having historic voting totals would be fantastic! It's strange to guess after all these years but my mind just tells me Sophie was so undeniable, in pretty much any year, that she may well have won again!

      Although I was impressed as always by Meryl in The French Lieutenant's Woman, I just thought how amazing it would have been if she'd won for "Silkwood" in 1981 then "Sophie's Choice" in 1982! I am still so awed she gave these two magnificent, disparate performances back to back.

  2. CJames - Silkwood is to me the best Meryl performance and she should have won it (together with Sophie's Choice the year before).And she should have won for both Bridges and Devil wears Prada. Sorry to say I don't agree that Iron Lady was her third - Viola was the clear winner by and large. It was such an awful movie and Meryl's characterisation was cartoonish in some instances although her senior portrayal was somewhat touching. She deserved her 4 Oscars by now but more often than not the Academy gets it wrong.

    1. My thinking was that if Meryl's Sophie was close to "undeniable" in 82, Silkwood needed to come before this to secure a double win. I think we once discussed who might have had the edge between Meryl and Shirley in 83 if she'd somehow lost for Sophie's Choice.

      I disagree about The Iron Lady win but recognise my bias as I'm from the UK and perhaps it just clicked a certain way for me! To my mind, Meryl turned in a remarkable evocation of Thatcher in spite of a really weak screenplay and, let's call a spade a spade, crumby direction. My main issue is Meryl accepting the role based on that screenplay! I think I get what they were aiming for, a portrait of a female who has lost her power and coming to terms with her life, but it failed as a biopic and as a movie. You don't have someone giving such a great performance and just give them superficial scenes which take a disjointed whistle-stop tour of really interesting history. It would have been a fantastic mini-series for Meryl, much more time is needed to tell the story.

      You mention Viola and while she was certainly very good in The Help I don't like this rewrite of history I see online that she was robbed (not suggesting you're saying that!) Meryl was the favourite to win, although losing the SAG narrowed her odds.

      I think the Winslet campaign upsetting the chances of a win for Doubt should be mentioned too.

      I completely agree with you about The Bridges Of Madison County, I loved that movie and her performance. Feels like this is a bit overlooked nowadays? I don't think they even included a still from it in Meryl's Golden Globe lifetime achievement tribute?!

      Unfortunately no one was beating Mirren in 2006..but as I wondered the other week, wouldn't she have won by a landslide in 2005 for TDWP?!

      I also think she was the "most outstanding" of the nominees in 88 for "A Cry In The Dark" (apologies Glenn!) and 02 for "Adaptation". I guess if Prada was a year earlier that brings it to 7 Oscars!

  3. CJames - while I respect your opinion on The Iron Lady, I don't think anyone is trying to rewrite history by saying Viola is the deserving winner. If the race were not as contentious, most would readily agree Meryl deserved her third for THAT role though it's anything but. It's the same reason Mirren won in 2006 over Meryl (TDWP) - a biopic which the Academy seems to love, a well-respected actress who has never won (quite similar to Meryl's overdue status), etc. It can be strongly argued that Meryl's performance was way richer - surprising, off the beaten track - without degenerating into some caricature.

    I agree that her role in Bridges was a comeback of sorts and oh my, it was such a brilliant performance. Should have been Oscar no 4 (after Kramer, Sophie and Silkwood). A Cry in the Dark again was brilliant but we know the Academy just wanted to honour Cher - one of the countless times it got it wrong (not because I'm a Meryl fan and I'm saying that). Her Oscar no 5 should have been Prada. But after that, I didn't find any of her performances as 'the best among the 5 nominees' - not even Doubt or Julie or Julia.

    I'm just reading about the upcoming Cannes festival this year and oh my, there are so MANY performances Meryl could have nabbed - such a shame she decided to act in that awful Extrapolations. Here's hoping she will surprise us again with a soild movie or even better, a play, that's on par with her talent and experience.