Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Too Big To Fail Review

The 2008 financial crisis might not seem to be good material for a film. After all, the causes of the crisis were complex and there were many parties involved. HBO has taken a bold step in making a movie about the crisis. It's based on Andrew Sorkin's book, "Too Big to Fail."

The movie starts out with the cause of the 2008 financial crisis. Using news clips we go back all the way back to the Reagan administration and up to the Clinton years. Those administrations loosened regulations on banks. What happened was that commercial banks and investment banks could merge, allowing commercial banks to participate in risky investments. The film then pivots to Hank Paulson (William Hurt), Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush. Bear Stearns had failed and Lehman Brothers was in critical condition. Paulson sees and hears the credit crisis and realizes that banks are beginning to flounder. This domino effect would bring down the world economy. With his team at Treasury, he desperately tries to find solutions until the only one left was a bailout of the banks by the government.

The subject matter of this movie is complex. But screenwriter Peter Gould does a good job of using the characters to do enough exposition to explain but keeps the dialogue organic so it doesn't sound phony. Director Curtis Hanson has crafted a film that is cinematic and that's remarkable considering the subject matter. Camera angles are well thought out. Moving camera shots add to the film's momentum. And the movie has a tension as Paulson tries to avert disaster. The economy looked like a sinking ship with Paulson doing damage control.

The cast is top notch. William Hurt as Paulson, displays desperation, fear and frustration. James Woods who plays Lehman Brothers Dick Fuld gives the character a bull in a china shop demeanor. Bill Pullman, Tony Shalhoub and Matthew Modine play greedy heads of the banks. As the banks are being nationalized, Modine particularly does a good job by conveying his character's desire to protect his financial interests rather than be concerned about the welfare of the public. Paul Giamatti plays Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. He gives the role a sense of maturity and wisdom. That's needed since in real life Bernanke studied the Great Depression and knew the stakes involved.

Too Big to Fail is a fascinating look at the 2008 financial crisis. It's thrilling and disturbing. And the scary thing is that it could happen again. The grade is A.

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