I’M quite the sucker for movies about the global financial crisis. In the same way, it seems, we’re all suckers within the global banking system.
Cinema hasn’t got its pretty little head around what’s happening in Europe yet but the Americans have made some strikingly dissonant attempts at documenting the mess stemming from Wall Street in 2008.
Charles Ferguson’s doco Inside Job won the documentary Oscar last year and is a withering, if didactic, look at the drama emanating from cynical financing. The telemovie The Last Days of Lehman Brothers was the first drama out of the blocks, but paint me green and call me a US dollar if it isn’t a chaotic, poorly written and overacted disaster (starring James Cromwell).
The two latest looks at the 2008 crisis are the best. Margin Call just moved out of cinemas and is well worth a look for striking performances from Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and others and for its personification of the crisis through personal drama rather than oblique explanations.
This week, the HBO telemovie Too Big to Fail (M, 135min, $34.95) is released. It too will seduce with its handsome cast led by William Hurt as US Treasury secretary Henry ‘‘Hank’’ Paulson and featuring Paul Giamatti, Cynthia Nixon, Ed Asner, Billy Crudup, Bill Pullman, Tony Shalhoub, James Woods and Topher Grace. It’s directed by LA Confidential’s Curtis Hanson.
In these pages — and others — we tend to bang on about the credibility of the US HBO network’s forays into drama, from The Sopranos to The Wire and Game of Thrones. But the network tends to deliver in its series.
Its telemovies are a little more mixed. The coming drama based on the 2008 presidential campaign, Game Change, for instance, focuses obviously and cruelly on Sarah Palin (played brilliantly by Julianne Moore) in a manner that misses the main game: Obama.
Too Big to Fail focuses on Paulson at the moment the US financial system — and presumably the world’s — was days from breaking. This focus is understandable given Paulson brought together, physically, the leaders of the country’s major financial institutions to force some kind of resolution.
Hurt gives a beautiful performance, particularly in the movie’s latter half as the weight of the world bears down on Hank.
But Peter Gould’s script, based on the Andrew Ross Sorkin book of the same name, is too busy trying to introduce all the characters. Despite Hanson’s energetic direction, many early scenes merely show characters butting heads over the phone; consequently, in a 100-minute film some of these can be viewed only as caricatures. Gould also tries earnestly to be Aaron Sorkin with his unlikely West Wing- ish wry gags at the end of a polemic or explanatory soliloquy.
But I loved it. Too Big to Fail is richly produced and involving, and its flaws are obvious enough to watch around.