TOO BIG TO FAIL (HBO) Review

Do you remember where you were when the market crashed? I do. I was writing an e-mail in my office when I hear yells from the lunch room telling me to come quick. I run from my office, intrigued and a little bit scared. Was there another terrorist attack? Another natural disaster? Has another celebrity died? My mind was racing. I join the small group of people looking up at the TV, and what do I see? Graphs. I see numbers and figures, pie charts and talking head analysts with the big words at the bottom of the screen reading “Stock Market Crash”. Disappointed, I looked at my co-workers and asked what the big deal was. We lost some money, but who cares? Doesn’t the stock market go up and down? I asked them “What’s the big deal?” There’s silence, and somebody pipes up and tells me “In the time it took you to run over from your office, the biggest investment bank in the country lost over 100 billion dollars.” Too Big to Fail attempts to chronicle one of the biggest financial meltdowns in history, and more importantly, make it entertaining. Does it succeed? Well…yes and no.

Directed by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) and adapted from the book of the same name by Andrew Sorkin (No relation to Academy Award winning Social Network writer, Aaron Sorkin). Hanson having directed one of my favorite movies of all time, L.A. Confidential, I was confident that he would be able to handle the large ensemble cast and take the rather confusing premise and turn it into an engaging TV movie. However, I think this ensemble might have been a bit too much for him, or really any director to be able to handle.

This leads into my first big complaint with the film: There’s too many freakin’ people in it! I know your knee-jerk reaction to this will be that I’m just slow, or maybe not intelligent enough to keep up with the high concept film, but I assure you that’s not the case. There’s just too many characters to keep track of, and they all have their own backstories and motives, and unless you frequently watch MSNBC or CNN you probably won’t know anything about their real-life counterparts. I’m of the opinion that movies should be accessible and entertaining to everybody, and if you’re confusing your audience then you aren’t properly telling your story. I like to think that I have a slightly better understanding of the financial crisis than most people, and I was even getting lost.

This transitions well into another issue I had, and that is the jargon. Again, unless you are very familiar with what happened with the financial meltdown, it would be very difficult to keep up with all of the fast-talk and numbers that were shooting at us throughout the film. I realize that this movie isn’t going to be enjoyed by everybody by default, but a better effort to explain everything to the layman would have gone a long way to making the film easier to follow and relate to.

The performances were solid, but not remarkable. William Hurt obviously had the most to work with here and had the best performance of the film, but the biggest surprise to me was Billy Crudup. I fully expect Hurt’s name to arise come Emmy season, and here’s hoping Mr. Mastercard gets some props as well.

The writer of the book “Too Big to Fail”, Andrew Ross Sorkin, is NOT related to Aaron Sorkin as I’ve previously stated. However, I think they relate to each other not only in name but in style of film. Aaron Sorkin wrote an incredible screenplay for The Social Network about a story that is…well…boring. It’s a movie about some kid in Harvard who makes a successful website and gets in trouble for it, but it was written so well that you forget it’s 2 straight hours of talking. This movie, however, is not like that. I know every movie isn’t supposed to be exciting, but they should at least be engaging enough to make the viewer care about the characters and want to know what’s happening. Unfortunately, I just didn’t get that here.

I’m sure this movie will do well. I’m sure it will win awards and we’ll hear it’s name a lot on Emmy night, but I just didn’t think it was as successful as past HBO Films. Despite some solid performances, a well-written script, and an admirable directing job, I just didn’t feel that the overall product was interesting enough to make me care about what happened.