×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Too Big to Fail

An entertaining if slightly dry account of the 2008 government bailout of the financial industry.

With:
Henry Paulson - William Hurt
Warren Buffett Ed Asner
Timothy Geithner Billy Crudup
Ben Bernanke Paul Giamatti
Jim Wilkinson - Topher Grace
John Thain Matthew Modine
Michele Davis Cynthia Nixon
Chris Flowers Michael O'Keefe
Jamie Dimon - Bill Pullman
John Mack - Tony Shalhoub
Dick Fuld - James Woods

HBO has a calculated knack for ensuring it remain top of mind in other elite bastions, which helps explain what might be called its Washington trilogy: “Recount,” the upcoming “Game Change” and, in between, “Too Big to Fail,” an entertaining if slightly dry account of the 2008 government bailout of the financial industry, as viewed over the shoulder of then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, whose agony is deftly conveyed by William Hurt. Scads of big-name actors appear in expanded cameos, while director Curtis Hanson mostly succeeds in crafting a thriller in expensive suits, where billions are brandished like broadswords.

“Too Big’s” closest cousin, actually, would be “Barbarians at the Gate,” which chronicled the high-stakes takeover battle for RJR Nabisco. Yet while that 1993 HBO film had James Garner and the satirical wit of writer Larry Gelbart going for it, this one hews a little more closely to sobriety, with less satisfying results.

Working from the book by New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin (fleetingly seen, appropriately, as a reporter), the movie starts somewhere in the middle — after the fall of Bear Stearns, as Lehman Bros., the U.S.’ fourth-largest investment bank, approaches freefall.

“The storm always passes,” insists Lehman’s agitated chief, Dick Fuld (a terrific James Woods), who keeps reminding anyone who’ll listen that the stock was in the mid-60s just a few months earlier.

Fairly soon, though, it becomes apparent Lehman has to be saved, as Paulson, then-president of New York’s Federal Reserve Bank Timothy Geithner (Billy Crudup), Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti) and Paulson’s staff try to engage in Brinks-truck brinkmanship.

This requires seeking to wrangle CEOs of the U.S.’ biggest banks, who will no doubt be amused, or not, to see who plays them in the movie.

In order to keep track of the sprawling cast and make sense of the near-incomprehensible economic parlance about “derivatives” and toxic assets, Hanson resorts to a pair of stilted devices: Introducing each player with onscreen chyrons, and occasionally having somebody ask, “Please explain how this could happen,” triggering a “Destroying the Economy for Dummies” soliloquy.

Finally, Hanson peppers the drama with news clips, the result being that financial anchors Erin Burnett and Maria Bartiromo (the real versions) garner almost as much screen time as any member of the cast except Hurt.

Paulson doesn’t come across as a hero, exactly, but somebody who recognizes “a catastrophic mess” when he sees one, requiring a dramatic response. At its best, “Too Big to Fail” captures the inherent dysfunction in the system, which ensures that a perfect solution — especially against the backdrop of an election year — is never an option; instead, the parties fumble for something they can sell to the various constituencies in the political and financial worlds. Nationalizing the banks, for example, is proposed, but dismissed by one of Paulson’s aides (Cynthia Nixon) as “un-Republican.”

Speaking for the financial class, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon (Bill Pullman) urges the assembled bankers to suck it up and commit to help bail out Lehman, noting that when Main Street looks at Wall Street, “They think we’re overpaid assholes” — an assessment that translates equally well to their big-media counterparts.

For HBO, though, a project such as this generates dividends that go well beyond ratings — drawing attention from heavyweights not just in media but in politics and finance.

In short, it’s a movie whose very subject matter renders it too big to fail.

Too Big to Fail

Movie; HBO, Mon. May 23, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in New York by Spring Creek and Deuce Three Prods. Executive producers, Paula Weinstein, Jeffrey Levine, Curtis Hanson; co-executive producer, Carol Fenelon; producer, Ezra Swerdlow; co-producers, Peter Gould, Andrew Ross Sorkin; director, Hanson; writer, Gould; based on the book by Sorkin.

Crew: Camera, Kramer Morgenthau; production designer, Bob Shaw; editors, Barbara Tulliver, Plummy Tucker; music, Marcelo Zarvos; casting, Alexa L. Fogel. 98 MIN.

Cast: Henry Paulson - William Hurt
Warren Buffett Ed Asner
Timothy Geithner Billy Crudup
Ben Bernanke Paul Giamatti
Jim Wilkinson - Topher Grace
John Thain Matthew Modine
Michele Davis Cynthia Nixon
Chris Flowers Michael O'Keefe
Jamie Dimon - Bill Pullman
John Mack - Tony Shalhoub
Dick Fuld - James WoodsWith: Ayad Akhtar, Kathy Baker, Amy Carlson, Evan Handler, John Heard, Dan Hedaya, Joey Slotnick.

More TV

  • Disney Channel Fires 'Andi Mack' Actor

    Disney Channel Fires 'Andi Mack' Actor Arrested for Plotting Sex With Minor

    Disney Channel has severed ties with “Andi Mack” actor Stoney Westmoreland following his arrest for allegedly trying to arrange a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old. “Stoney Westmoreland, an actor working on the series ‘Andi Mack,’ was arrested in Salt Lake City today,” a Disney Channel spokesperson said in a statement Friday. “Given the nature of [...]

  • Russian Doll

    TV News Roundup: Natasha Lyonne's 'Russian Doll' Sets Netflix Premiere Date

    On Friday’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for “Russian Doll” and Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Brexit” film has a premiere date on HBO FIRST LOOKS Showtime has released a new teaser for the upcoming comedy series, “Black Monday,” which will premiere Sunday, Jan. 20 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The series stars and is executive produced by Don [...]

  • Vanity Fair Review

    TV Review: 'Vanity Fair'

    There’s something comforting about the predictability of a period piece novel adaptation in the Masterpiece Theater tradition. Knowing the story, or even just the rhythms of the genre, there are rarely many surprises. The women will toss off witticisms and cry careful, pretty tears; the men will steel their jaws and declare their love, ideally [...]

  • FILE - In this April 5,

    CBS Claims Commitment to Ending Harassment. Its Actions Say Otherwise (Column)

    At this point, a new breaking sexual harassment case at CBS isn’t exactly a surprise. Over and over again, powerful CBS company men from producers to executives to the ex-CEO himself have made headlines for propagating decades of harassment and abuse, with dozens of witnesses affirming that the pattern was business as usual. But as [...]

  • Willow ShieldsVariety Portrait Studio, Beautycon Festival

    'Hunger Games' Alum Willow Shields Joins Netflix Drama Series 'Spinning Out'

    Willow Shields has been cast in a series regular role in “Spinning Out,” the upcoming ice skating drama series at Netflix. She joins a cast that also includes Kaya Scodelario, who was announced as the series lead on Thursday, taking over the role originally held by Emma Roberts. Shields will star as Serena, Kat Baker’s (Scodelario) [...]

  • Adam Levine Cardi B

    Maroon 5 and How the Super Bowl Halftime Show Became Music's Least Wanted Gig

    Who would have thought that the Super Bowl Halftime show, an American institution watched by more than 100 million people, would become the least wanted gig in music? But thanks to the ongoing controversy concerning the NFL’s stance on a player’s right to protest, brought to the forefront by football’s top conscientious objector Colin Kaepernick, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content