Too Big to Fail
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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
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Too Big To Fail is an entertaining drama, BUT it is just that, a drama, not a documentary. You cannot take everything you see in this film to the bank. The movies made about the financial crisis fall into one of two categories; reenactment drama / documentary. Be aware which category the movies you choose to watch regarding this event fall into. This reenactment is well acted (a blessing as well as a curse), it paints a picture of who some of the key players were -during the crisis but not necessarily leading up to the crisis- and it describes a few of the elements that triggered the events (though the actual explanation of what created the crisis is lacking). But when unrecorded conversations that took place behind closed doors are scripted by someone who wasn't there, and character attributes are assigned to actors playing key people in positions of great power, truth sometimes becomes a casualty of drama, not to mention any (well intentioned or otherwise) agenda by the book author / film maker that creeps in. Watching this production is an exercise of separating the wheat from the chaff.
If you want to view an actual documentary that depicts the events as they occurred check out "Inside Job". This production interviews the actual people working in the industry at the time (or at least the ones willing to appear on camera, which in and of itself is telling).
To further illustrate the point let's take one player as an example; Treasury Secretary Henry [Hank] Paulson. In Too Big to Fail, Hank Paulson is portrayed as a caring, compassionate man caught up in events he had no hand in creating. Inside Job, however, airs actual video tape of Paulson speaking, and the impression one gets from noting his behavior on camera is a bit different from the Too Big To Fail characterization. Aging but still handsome actor William Hurt portrays an integrous, nurturing Hank Paulson in Too Big. Is that the real Paulson? Did Paulson's tenure at investment bank Goldman Sachs not contribute to the crisis? We have some quotes from Wiki that tend to counter the Hank Paulson portrayed in Too Big:
1) In April 2007, he delivered an upbeat assessment of the economy, saying growth was healthy and the housing market was nearing a turnaround. "All the signs I look at" show "the housing market is at or near the bottom," Paulson said in a speech to a business group in New York. The U.S. economy is "very healthy" and "robust," Paulson said.
2) On August 10, 2008, Secretary Paulson told NBC's Meet the Press that he had no plans to inject any capital into Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. On September 7, 2008, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went into conservatorship.
3) Time Magazine has Paulson as one of the "25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis".
None of this comes out in Too Big.
Inside Job further points out that Paulson supported lifting the leverage limits on Investment banks (which made the problem far worse), as well as resisting regulation of the issuance of insurance policies (CDSs) that broke the back of AIG (the institution which had to be bailed out by the Federal government). I would add that Paulson is on record in support of a major law put on the books known as the 'Dodd-Frank' bill. What does this mean? It is pretty much agreed that what enabled the 2008 financial crisis was the repeal of a post 1930s depression law that for over half a century had kept banks from doing precisely what they did that caused the crisis (along with unregulated derivatives). The law was referred to as Glass-Steagall and was repealed in 1999. You can draw a direct line from the repeal of Glass-Steagall to the near failure of the US financial system in 2008.
Yet rather than simply put Glass-Steagall back on the books, law makers passed the monstrously sized, never read by any politician, Dodd-Frank bill instead. Result? Today the financial system is more highly leveraged than it was in 2008. Nothing has been fixed under Dodd-Frank. So what's the deal with Paulson? Is he a professional liar, inept, deluded, ill-educated, corrupt? I don't know. It's just that to answer that question we need more than what Too Big gives us. I would recommend watching 'Hank: Five Years From the Brink', an interview based documentary focusing exclusively on Hank Paulson's point of view on the crisis. His demeanor tends to reflect what William Hurt put forth in Too Big, and he convincingly explains away the charges related to him saying one thing and then doing something else. Yet there seems to a few pieces missing from his story. So although Inside Job seems to get closest to truth, I would say 'Hank' is well worth viewing as another piece of the puzzle.
By the way, if you want to watch a pure dramatization of the financial crisis that does not spin the players into looking like innocents who are nobly trying to keep the train on the track, check out Margin Call. Although the film depicts a fictitious event (a composite of actual people and events, really), the story is very real in its depiction of the temptation, rationalization, greed, hubris, and braggadocio that allowed such dangerous bets to be placed with YOUR money. I really like this film and watch it repeatedly.
Note: This whole topic is not past history... it is current events unfolding in an extended timeline. The stage is set for this too happen again, albeit in a different form.
With the presidential election in the upcoming future, it is important you keep events like this in mind so that you know why it is important you have someone who can make the right choice and decision in a hard time even if it isn't the best choice.
We here the term "Too bog to fail" a lot now with banks and wall street being in the news every week and more and more people looking at what happend in 2008 and what could have been differently.
The only thing that was difficult about this movie was keeping some of the banks straight and remebering who they where due to the fact they where introduced once and didn't have role that left you connecting with them one a personal level or anything.
Also if you liked this movie you would probaly als olike the movie The Big Short which shows a different side of the 2008 crises.
That last would be one point of contention I had about this film. It kept everything on a fairly simplistic level and accepting the "Financial pundits' thesis" ultimately placing the blame on the homeowners and American people for causing the crisis, rather than the overleveaged Wall St. banks. This is like saying "Those innocent Wall St. bankers were swindled by those savvy, cutthroat Average Joe Americans who took those Wall St. Bankers for a ride." And that's ridiculuous. As one who saw the crisis coming remarked after the collapse, "That idea assumes that 5 million average Americans all decided to lie on their mortgage applications and were all so good at doing it that they fooled the Wall St. bankers at places like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. And if that's the case, then those people should be working on Wall St., rather than those bankers."
Still all in all an enjoyable film with a good cast. Some famous faces (William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, Bill Pullman, James Woods) and many great character actors you will recognize but not immediately know (Topher Grace, Michael O'Keefe, John Heard). But they all do a decent job.