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Movie Review of Too Big To Fail

The year 2008 seems like a distant memory but for many people, it will be remembered as the year when the infamous financial crisis took place. Based on the New York Times’s acclaimed financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book with the same name, the TV movie-‘Too Big To Fail’- uses all the real people involved, and likely all the real dialog the production team could dig up to focus that financial crisis.

The result is a very realistic, very chilling snapshot of how financial institutions can make or break the economy and our lives.To get a proper context, we first need to understand what ‘Too Big To Fail’ refers to? Some financial companies in the world are so big and so interconnected that pulling them out of the system would lead to the collapse of the system itself. Such firms were termed ‘Too Big To Fail’.

The movie opened with a fairly good set up of the cause of the financial crisis. Easy credit encourages home ownership to almost everyone in the US, even to those who knew that they couldn’t afford the mortgages. Their lack of consciousness about their own financial capacity was born because the banking industry and their brethren on Wall Street always looking to make another buck.

As more and more mortgages were handed out, bankers got creative and turned them into complex instruments that would end up turning on their very creators. When the music finally stopped and housing prices ceased going up as they had done year after year, everyone was left holding the bag. Everyone including banks, investment firms, the people who couldn’t pay their mortgages and pretty much everyone on the planet earth as the economy and stock market of the US is intricately related with the world economy and the stock market.

To appreciate the fullness of the movie, a notepad should be required to help keep all the names in check. Exploring the 2008 Financial Meltdown in 95 minutes, director Curtis Hanson doesn’t simply walk through the details, he gallops, channeling the mighty power of ‘The Flash’ to sprint from encounter to encounter while arranging the complex puzzle pieces that worm forth from pits of the business world to the offices in Washington D.C.

The good guy of the movie is obviously Henry Paulson, beautifully portrayed by William Hurt. Paulson nearly has a nervous breakdown trying to save the world economy after investment companies’ start going bankrupt.It’s pointed out that Paulson has no conflict of interest even though he used to run Goldman Sachs because he dumped his stock in the company.

Beside from a slightly irritable John Thain from Merrill Lynch (played by Matthew Modine) and an understandably cranky Dick Fuld (played by James Woods), there aren’t any villains in the mix.

Throughout, distinctive faces keep showing up briefly, from Tony Shalhoub (as Morgan Stanley chief executive John Mack) to Evan Handler (as Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein). It’s an embarrassment of featured players. And yet they all ultimately blur together into a series of men making big-shot talk.

As they shouted at each other behind thick boardroom doors, the moneymen reminded us that for all the hatred they have received since, they represented (and in many ways still do) the sharp end of capitalist achievement: smart, fast and utterly ruthless, gambling with the fortunes of a nation. We already knew how the story would end, of course. In hindsight it is easy to feel that the
near-trillion dollar bail-out was the only option open, but the film showed clearly that this was far from the case at the time.

As a documentary, Too Big to Fail was excellent, with credible performances, a taut script and the expected HBO varnish. As a drama, its flaw was that for all the alpha male hubris on display, there was no redemptive suffering.

Aside from grievous loss of face and a few redundancies, at the end of it all the main characters were still a group of multi-millionaires who’d tried their hardest. The collective crisis was too big for anyone to take responsibility for, and too big – ultimately – to convey truly on the small screen.

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