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Based on the bestselling book by Andrew Ross Sorkin, Too Big To Fail offers an intimate look at the epochal financial crisis of 2008 and the powerful men and women who decided the fate of the world’s economy in a matter of a few weeks. Centering on Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the film goes behind closed doors to examine the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and Washington.
Anyone with a significant amount of money invested in the U.S. financial markets might want to consider other strategies after seeing Too Big to Fail, a meticulously detailed account of the months in 2008 when not only America’s economy but the whole world’s was on the brink of an apocalyptic meltdown. Made for HBO, director Curtis Hanson’s film boasts one of the more impressive casts in recent memory (William Hurt, James Woods, Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup, Edward Asner, Topher Grace, Matthew Modine, Bill Pullman, Tony Shalhoub, Cynthia Nixon… the list is long and star studded), with Hurt especially effective as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the central figure here. Having already presided over the collapse and sale of the investment banking giant Bear Stearns, Paulson was faced with a similar crisis when Lehman Brothers, another investment banker, saw its stock price tumble and its clients depart in droves–the result of the lack of government regulation and the purchase of new homes by many people who could not in fact afford them, among other factors. Paulson’s attempts to oversee a private sale of the over-leveraged company failed, leading Lehman to bankruptcy; others, like American International Group (AIG), would soon have followed had not the government intervened with an 11th-hour bailout. The movie presents a great deal of information and an enormous amount of data, but Hanson and screenwriter Peter Gould (working from Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book), while hardly sympathetic to the financial wheeler-dealers who got us into this mess, do a good job of keeping it all straight; and although we know how it turned out, the story is surprisingly gripping and tense, with brilliant performances by Giamatti (as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke) and Crudup (as banker-economist Timothy Geithner) in particular. With the 2008 presidential election looming, most of us were unaware of how close the global economy came to complete failure, but by the end of Too Big to Fail, we are left with the sobering realization that most of our money exists merely on paper–no bank could possibly cover its investors if they all wanted to liquidate at the same time. So perhaps putting a stash of cash in the mattress or a coffee can buried in the back yard isn’t such a bad idea after all. –Sam Graham