Too Big to Fail (film)

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Too Big to Fail
Too Big to Fail film.jpg
Based onToo Big to Fail
by Andrew Ross Sorkin
Written byPeter Gould
Directed byCurtis Hanson
StarringWilliam Hurt
Edward Asner
Billy Crudup
Paul Giamatti
Topher Grace
Cynthia Nixon
Bill Pullman
Tony Shalhoub
James Woods
Theme music composerMarcelo Zarvos
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
ProducerEzra Swerdlow
CinematographyKramer Morgenthau
EditorsBarbara Tulliver
Plummy Tucker
Running time98 minutes
Production companiesDeuce Three Productions
HBO Films
Original networkHBO
Original release
  • May 23, 2011 (2011-05-23)

Too Big to Fail is an American biographical drama television film first broadcast on HBO on May 23, 2011 based on Andrew Ross Sorkin's non-fiction book Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves (2009). The film was directed by Curtis Hanson. It received 11 nominations at the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards; Paul Giamatti's portrayal of Ben Bernanke earned him the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie at the 18th Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Plot summary[edit]

Too Big to Fail chronicles the 2008 financial meltdown, focusing on the actions of U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (William Hurt) and Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti), Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, to contain the problems during the period of August 2008 to October 13, 2008. The film starts with clips of news reports about the mortgage industry crisis and the forced sale of the troubled Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase, with Fed guarantees.

With Bear Stearns out of the picture, short sellers have turned their attention on Lehman Brothers. In need of capital, CEO Dick Fuld (James Woods) reluctantly fires COO Joe Gregory and CFO Erin Callan, naming Bart McDade as the new president and COO. McDade begins to successfully negotiate a deal with Korean investors, hinging on the condition that Lehman's toxic real estate is excluded. The deal falls through, however, when Fuld's pride gets the best of him and he tries to coerce the Koreans into accepting the real estate assets.

Paulson is adamant that the government will not subsidize any more acquisitions, but it becomes clear the most promising buyer for Lehman, Bank of America, is uninterested without Fed involvement. Paulson and President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Timothy Geithner (Billy Crudup) gather the leaders of the biggest banks, including Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein (Evan Handler), JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon (Bill Pullman), and Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack (Tony Shalhoub), to convince them to underwrite the deal themselves. During a break in negotiations, another threatened firm, Merrill Lynch, approaches Bank of America to buy them instead, which Paulson tacitly okays. With Bank of America purchasing Merrill Lynch, the only other buyer is British firm Barclays, but their involvement is blocked by British banking regulators. Lehman collapses and is forced into bankruptcy. Meanwhile, insurance firm AIG also begins to fail.

Lehman's collapse affects the entire financial market, and the stock market goes into freefall. Blankfein, Mack, and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt inform Paulson they are unable to do business, and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde warns him that he must not allow AIG to fail, as the crisis is affecting Europe as well. Unlike Lehman, the Treasury rescues AIG with an $85 billion loan.

Bernanke argues that the Congress must pass legislation to authorize any continued intervention by the Fed or the Treasury. With the availability of credit drying up, Paulson's plan is to buy the toxic assets from the banks to take the risk off their books and increase their cash reserves. Bernanke and Paulson lobby Congress, with Bernanke emphasizing the potential of fallout worse than the Great Depression if they fail to act. The committee of representatives appear close to agreeing, when U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate John McCain, with great fanfare, announces that he is suspending his campaign and returning to Washington to work on the legislation, polarizing the Republicans and Democrats on the issue. Paulson has to threaten McCain not to interfere and beg the Democrats, led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, not to back away from the negotiations. After a wave of panic and personal haranguing from President George W. Bush, the legislation passes on a second attempt and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is created.

Paulson's team realizes that buying toxic assets will take too long, leaving direct capital injections to the banks as their only option to use TARP to get credit flowing again. Along with FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, Paulson informs the banks that they will receive mandatory capital injections. The banks eventually agree, but Paulson's staff laments that the parties who caused the crisis are being allowed to dictate the terms of how they should use the billions with which they are being bailed out. In private conference, Bernanke and Paulson lament that, although the intent of TARP is for the banks to use the loan money to restore credit for ordinary consumers, the legislation stops short of forcing them to do so.

An epilogue notes that the banks did not, in fact, use the loan money as intended, but instead returned it at their earliest opportunity, and the stock market still crashed and was followed by a rash of home foreclosures. Nevertheless, bank mergers continued in the wake of the crisis, and now only ten financial institutions hold 77% of all U.S. banking assets and have been declared too big to fail.


The cast includes the following:[1]

Home media[edit]

The DVD was released on June 12, 2012.[2]


Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 74%, based on 27 reviews, and an average rating of 6/10.[3] On Metacritic, the movie received a weighted average score of 67/100 from 17 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[4]

The A.V. Club gave the film a B rating.[5]


2011 Emmy Awards

2012 Golden Globe Awards

2012 Screen Actors Guild Awards

2012 Writers Guild of America Awards

  • Won: Writers Guild Award for Long Form Adaptation - (Peter Gould)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Too Big to Fail: Cast & Crew". HBO Movies. HBO. Retrieved January 31, 2012.
  2. ^ "Too Big to Fail". Complete Season DVDs. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  3. ^ "Too Big to Fail (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  4. ^ "Too Big To Fail Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. June 25, 2018.
  5. ^ Tobias, Scott (May 23, 2011). "Too Big To Fail". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved June 25, 2018.

External links[edit]