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HBO’s Too Big to Fail

This article was written by in Economy. 7 comments.

Last night, HBO premiered Too Big to Fail, a movie based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book, Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System — and Themselves, based on the events of the financial meltdown of 2008 starring Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, AIG, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the Department of the Treasury. The dramatization focused on the events surrounding just a few days; the aftermath of the decisions by the men leading these companies — all men, by the way — and the “Main Street” side of the collapse comprise the real story, and this was reduced to off-handed remarks and the film’s text-based epilogue prior to the closing credits.

The film portrayed Hank Paulson, then Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, then head of the New York Federal Reserve, and Ben Bernanke, Fed Chairman, as the mostly-good guys, trying desperately save the world from financial collapse, and the CEOs of the major financial corporations as the somewhat-bad guys, holding off on saving the world, but ultimately giving in. The film showed the chief of the Securities Exchange Commission, ordered by the government to step in to force the hand of the corporations, uncomfortable with the role the government was playing in forcing — or strongly encouraging — deals and moves.

If you’ve been a bit confused about how the world came to the brisk of total financial collapse at this time, the characters in the movie do a good job of succinctly explaining the series of events that brought the financial system to this point. When Paulson is asked why no regulation prevented these problems, he exhibits the only appearance of greed in the movie by offering the excuse that they were making too much money.

Almost every line of the movie touches on financial terms, so this might not be a film that holds the interest of the typical audience. There is drama and tension, so it works, but having some understanding of finance helps get through the plot. Like Titanic, the audience knows the ending, and it is the set of events that bring the film to its eventual conclusion that makes it interesting.

Catch Too Big to Fail on HBO. It may not provide new major insights into the financial collapse, but the actors’ performances make this film work. If you have seen the film, share your thoughts.

Updated May 28, 2011 and originally published May 24, 2011.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Ceecee

It has a great cast and I heard that it was awesome. Can’t wait to see it.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

I would suggest “The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report” (PDF from the Gov.) by The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. They actually did a pretty decent job of drilling down to real causes. It will give you more insight into the “little guys” contributions and the deterioration of the underwriting standards, as well as an example of appraisers put out of business because they refused to appease the banks and brokers. Although Mr. Sorkin’s book (a tough read) did a decent job it was, to me, too easy on the likes of Paulson, Geithner, Bernanke and the less-than-forthright rating agencies and did little to detail the low-doc, no-doc, and liar loans that were at the root of this mess. Warned REPEATEDLY – they did little or nothing until their buddies were drowning – and by then it was too late for the rest of us.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

One more point…. I too noted Paulson remark about “They were making too much money” and nearly choked. David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget and critic of Reganomics and the Fed was very blunt about Paulson’s panic when Goldman’s stock dived and the Fed stepped in. He said, “There was no philosophy behind it; there was never an analysis done.” Driven by a clear conflict of interest, he wanted to protect the $600 million fortune he built at Goldman, while saving his Wall Street buddies from bankruptcy. So Paulson failed the American people.”

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avatar 4 shellye

I missed the first broadcast of the movie; does anyone know if it will be shown again?

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avatar 5 Luke Landes

HBO frequently replays its TV movies. A quick search of HBO’s schedule online shows the movie will be shown on many HBO stations over the next few days, including HBO’s main channel on Saturday. Check HBO’s schedule or your cable operator’s schedule.

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avatar 6 qixx

Also it is likely to end up in the HBO OnDemand section for your cable operator. It might even get to Netflix quickly as well.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

can somebody tell me what are the ethical issues in the story of “Too big to fail?”

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