For this streamlined adaptation of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s nonfiction best-seller of the same name, director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) centers the story around the one man who had possibly the worst great job at the time: U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson (a very good William Hurt, The Incredible Hulk).
In trying to prevent a complete collapse of the country’s business doings, Paulson is stuck between a rock (plummeting stocks) and about dozen rich white guys (the CEOs of Wall Street’s financial institutions). “Wall Street has a gambling problem,” he says. “They never learn anything!”
And as Too Big to Fail continues, and the CEOs simply want to be rewarded for their bad biz behavior with a government bailout, Paulson wants anything but. “We need to make it clear this is their problem,” he tells his team in a moment of strategizing. “We are their allies and advisers. We are not a safety net.”
The film stocks its CEO cast with famous faces, including James Woods and Bill Pullman, but you may not remember who’s who. That’s OK, because for the purposes of the story, they function primarily as a collective. This also means some fine actors get the short shrift — “Hey, I forgot Matthew Modine was even in this!” — but that’s to be expected in a work that takes an extremely complex situation and hits all its highs and much more lows in less than an hour and 40 minutes.
You may not grasp every minute detail as the dialogue whizzes by, but you’ll get enough to know how such a Monumental Decision was made by so few people and, therefore, acquire a sick feeling deep within your stomach. Too Big to Fail is the scariest movie of the year. —Rod Lott