Bank­ing on fail­ure

The out­landish events be­hind the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis were very real, writes Rob Owen of Scripps Howard News

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TV -

TELE­MOVIE Too Big to Fail – based on the book of the same name by New York Times reporter An­drew Ross Sorkin – is one of those be­hind-the-scenes process films that de­picts mo­ments so out­landish they’d come off as hy­per­bole if not for the fact they’re based on ac­tual events.

It takes view­ers be­hind closed doors dur­ing the Septem­ber 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis for myr­iad scenes of bank­ing ex­ec­u­tives get­ting dic­tated to by then-trea­sury Sec­re­tary Henry Paul­son (Wil­liam Hurt) in or­nate board­rooms.

Given the topic, Too Big to Fail might seem like a movie made only for pol­icy wonks but, even if you don’t un­der­stand the finer points of mone­tary pol­icy, it’s en­ter­tain­ing be­cause it fea­tures that great equaliser in Amer­i­can pop­u­lar cul­ture: wealthy, well-heeled peo­ple be­hav­ing like jerks, al­low­ing the less-wealthy a cer­tain su­pe­rior sat­is­fac­tion.

In this cri­sis, there was plenty of blame to go around, from Wall Street fat cats to Main Street home­own­ers who bought houses they could not af­ford.

Writ­ten by Peter Gould ( Break­ing Bad) and di­rected by Cur­tis Han­son ( Won­der Boys), Too Big to Fail fea­tures cameos by po­lit­i­cal fig­ures made fa­mous by cable news – such as then-house Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Linda Glick) and Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bar­ney Frank (Dan He­daya) – but spends more time with the likes of then-fed­eral Re­serve Bank of New York pres­i­dent Ti­mothy Gei­th­ner (Billy Crudup) and Fed­eral Re­serve chair­man Ben Ber­nanke (Paul Gia­matti). Wealthy busi­ness mag­nate War­ren Buf­fett (Ed As­ner) also ap­pears.

If not for the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion – the po­ten­tial for a new Great De­pres­sion – Too Big to Fail could play as a black com­edy. A Chi­nese of­fi­cial lec­tures Paul­son at the Bei­jing Olympics: ‘‘The amount of debt your coun­try car­ries is a ter­ri­ble vul­ner­a­bil­ity’’. A Trea­sury flack (Cyn­thia Nixon, Sex and the City) scolds any­one who refers to ‘‘a very large pur­chase-as­sis­tance pack­age’’ as a bailout (even though it is) and, in an ab­surd mo­ment, Ber­nanke ques­tions Paul­son’s re­quest to loosen re­quire­ments: ‘‘You want me to al­low them to raise their lever­age so they can buy a bank that’s about to fail be­cause it’s over-lever­aged?’’

star James Wood (left) as Richard Fuld

At a rel­a­tively brief 98 min­utes, the film moves at a fast clip, with ur­gent back­ground mu­sic quick­en­ing the pace.

Screen­writer Gould com­pares Too Big to Fail to a dis­as­ter film, just one that’s set dur­ing a fi­nan­cial cri­sis rather than when an as­ter­oid is hurtling to­ward Earth.

‘‘Eco­nomic pol­icy may not be sexy, but the fact that all of us have credit cards and bank ac­counts means that pretty much all of us have a stake in what was go­ing on,’’ he says.

Han­son says the film falls squarely in the wheel­house of the kinds of movies he makes: ‘‘Most of the pic­tures I’ve done have been about peo­ple in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances try­ing to fig­ure out their way out.’’

Too Big to Fail: Wed­nes­day, 5.45pm, Show­time Pre­miere

Too Big To Fail

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