It’s hard to build a fast-paced
movie when the action essentially centers
around a bunch of middle-aged men in suits
engaged in business meetings and telephone
But director Curtis Hanson (who won an
Oscar for the more-active theatrical L.A. Confidential)
manages to do just that with Too Big to
Fail, HBO’s telefilm based on New York Times
reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s chronicle of the
financial crisis of 2008.
The film — which covers the period between
the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the passage
of the TARP bill in the fall of 2008 — is a
comprehensive, chronological look behind the
scenes at the crises’ key players. Deftly using
clips from actual television news accounts to
drive the story, it follows Treasury Secretary
Hank Paulson (William Hurt), Federal Reserve
Board chairman Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti)
and New York Federal Reserve Bank president
Timothy Geithner (Billy Crudup) and their aides
as they deal with the spiraling crisis, persuading,
cajoling and threatening the CEOs of the big
Wall Street banks as events warrant.
The rest of the cast is a who’s who, with performances
as powerful as the figures they’re
portraying. Of particular note are James Woods
as Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld, Tony Shalhoub
as Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, Bill
Pullman as JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon
and Ed Asner — who certainly won’t be mistaken
for Lou Grant — as billionaire Warren
Hurt delivers a strong and simmering performance
as Paulson, who is the central character
in this story, but it’s Giamatti as Bernanke who
serves as the voice of reason in the tale, and
delivers some powerful monologues in doing
so. At one point, he coldly tells a room full of
congressional leaders wavering over the TARP
bill, “If we don’t do this now, we won’t have an
economy on Monday.”
The film’s quick pace doesn’t always serve it
well — at times, the action jumps around too
much. And it sometimes glosses over the more
technical aspects of the crisis to keep the plot
But for someone with even a limited grasp of
what happened over those two fateful months
in late 2008, Too Big to Fail is an entertaining,
fast-paced history lesson that’s worth watching.
Too Big to Fail premieres on HBO on Monday, May 23 at 9 p.m.
Mike Demenchuk has served as content manager of Broadcasting+Cable and Multichannel News since 2016. After stints as reporter and editor at Adweek, The Bond Buyer and local papers in New Jersey, he joined the staff of Multichannel News in 1999 as assistant managing editor and has served as the cable trade publication's managing editor since 2005. He edits copy and writes headlines for both the print magazine and website, wrangles the occasional e-newsletter and reviews TV shows from time to time. He's also the guy to bother with your guest blog, Fates & Fortunes and Freeze Frame submissions.
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