Friday, May 27, 2011

Too Big to Fail

The programming on cable TV has been getting increasingly better in recent years, and leading this charge has been HBO. The latest HBO movie is "Too Big to Fail", telling the events of the 2008 financial crisis on how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system - and themselves - is based on the book of the same title written by Andrew Sorkin. The film was directed by Curtis Henson and includes a well known ensemble cast.

The story revolves around Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson (William Hurt); President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Timothy Geithner (Billy Crudup); and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti) who are working together to prevent the financial decline of America. The private sector finance leaders of Wall Street are brought together to find a solution. These leaders include:

John Thain, CEO Merril Lynch (Matthew Modine)
Dick Fuld, CEO Lehman Bros. (James Woods)
John Mack, CEO Morgan Stanley (Tony Shalhoub)
Jamie Dimon, CEO Chase Manhatten (Bill Pullman)
Warren Buffett (Ed Asner)

The acting from Paul Giamatti, William Hurt, and Billy Crudup is fine, however the writing and performance for most of the other actors is a bunch of brief quips that were likely pulled from newspapers. The insertion of CNN footage to advance the timeline is a sign of a weak script.

Being in DC and having an accounting background the the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has been a topic that I have needed to pay attention to. Everyone in America has an opinion on whether TARP was the correct approach taken, but what the film depicts is the decision not to bail out a failing bank. The intention was to have the public sector correct the poor business decisions, however the error was larger than ever imagined. It was probably a jab at the banks, but I did enjoy the inclusion of a line where the bank CEO was asking about executive bonuses.

Following the passage of TAP, banks made fewer loans and markets continued to tumble. Unemployment rose to over 10 percent and millions of families lost their homes to foreclosure. The financial markets are recovering and the American public are still struggling in some parts of the country. As an educational piece of cinema this is a very telling part of American history. I don't know if it will be strong enough to receive any awards, but is certainly worth viewing and gets 3 Quacks from me.

In 2009, panicked markets stabilized and the slide into a global depression was averted. The biggest banks repaid their TARP money. In 2010, compensation on Wall Street rose to a record 135 billion. Ten banks now hold 77 percent of all US bank assets, and have been declared too big to fail.

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