In the new Showtime series Billions, the British actor portrays Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, a Wall Street hedge fund titan who lives a sort of moral highwire act, seemingly charitable and generous but actually a financial arch-criminal.
He could also refer to any white collar criminals like Bernie Madoff , Jordan Belfort, Steve Cohen or vast majority of the people whose combined worth doesn’t equal that of a character who pays cash for a $83 million house.
The pungent new drama streaming its first season on Stan, shows wealth inequality topic, with two supposedly contrasting US presidential candidates in Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both vowing in different ways to address it as part of their campaign platforms.
The series was created by Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin, and it is loosely based on the life of Preet Bharara, a New York-based federal prosecutor of financial crimes. Bharara has famously prosecuted Wall Street executives, banks and hedge funds.
Lewis, known for Brody in Homeland and Henry VIII in Wolf Hall, is charming and forceful, dedicated and deceitful.
Malin Akerman plays Axe’s very own ice blonde, working class who become upwardly Catholic, Lara Axelrod.
No one believes that he could have triumphed in the markets so completely without illegal tactics such as insider trading, and that brings him into conflict with US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, headed by Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti, delivering equal amounts of consternation to Lewis’ charm).
Their enmity is institutional, territorial and intimate – Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) is the in-house psychiatrist at Axe Capital. Bobby Axelrod’s bestie happens to be the wife of the man who is trying to ice him.
Billions is a readily pleasurable show. It’s easy to enjoy the rapidly escalating battle between the two men and their courtiers.
The show’s fulcrum is not Axe nor Chuck, but the latter’s wife, Wendy, who in a way is married to both adversaries. As a hedge fund whisperer she pumps up and focuses the market marauders – “bring some meat back to camp, ” Axe tells his troops – and Wendy takes pleasure in controlling them, in using their alpha male fantasies as a means of manipulation, as much as she plays the S&M mistress for her husband, whose public display of strength requires a private need for submission.
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