Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Too Big To Fail Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
HBO Films critically acclaimed and Emmy nominated film Too Big To Fail presents a searing and explosive account of the events that led to the 2008 financial crisis and how the U.S. economy was brought back from the brink of collapse.  Too Big To Fail is based on the bestselling book by Andrew Ross Sorkin and offers an intimate look at the powerful men and women who decided the fate of the world’s economy in a matter of a few weeks. Centering on Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the film goes behind closed doors to examine the symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and Washington. Directed by Academy Award winner Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential), the film features an all-star cast lead by Academy Award winner William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Emmy and Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man, John Adams), Academy Award nominee James Woods (Ghosts of Mississippi), Emmy winner Cynthia Nixon (Sex And The City)Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3) and Billy Crudup (Public Enemies).

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

To Big To Fail chronicles the efforts of many in the government and the private sector to save the U.S. economy from the brink of disaster back in 2008 thanks to all of the bad loans from banks and the corporate greed of many in Wall Street.   With so many people involved, the film focuses mainly a few of the big players including the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson (William Hurt), the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti), and the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Timothy Geithner (Billy Crudup).  The film brilliantly shows the events leading up to the disaster with actual news footage and just how close the economy came to completely crashing.  Too Big To Fail’s fantastic cast, strong script, and great direction by Curtis Hanson makes this unprecedented financial disaster understandable and illuminates the shocking events without becoming polemic.
As the movie opens, we revisit the start of the meltdown as Bear Stearns is saved by the Treasury Department through a bailout.  Dick Fuld (James Woods), CEO of Lehman Brothers meanwhile has been trying to find some external investors into his company to offset his losses.  Due to Lehman Brothers’ exposure to toxic housing assets though, he finds it’s a lot harder than he thought it would be.  Everyone assumes that the Treasury will save Lehman Brothers much like they did with Bear Stearns but that’s not the case as Paulson doesn’t want to start a trend where every company will count on being saved.  Paulson pushes for a private solution to solve Lehman Brothers problem, so Fuld continues to try to find an outside investor and starts talking to Bank of America and Barclays about a deal. When Bank of America abandons the deal to purchase Merill Lynch instead, Fuld is furious but is pacified when Barclays agrees to the deal.  When British regulators refuse to approve the deal, Fuld and Lehman Brothers is left without a parachute and Paulson orders him to declare bankruptcy the next morning before the market opens in an attempt to stop a market free-fall.
That action seems to reassure investors and Wall Street that things are under control but Paulson soon learns that Lehman’s woes have started a chain reaction in the market, and AIG is the next conglomerate teetering on the edge of destruction.  Since AIG is so massive, if it fails it will take down the entire financial system.  Left with little choice, Paulson has to eat his words and bail out another company, but this time the Treasury actually takes AIG over to prevent its collapse.  Knowing that these occurrences are due to a systematic failure, Bernanke and Paulson push for a congressional solution to the problem.  Of course, whenever you get Congress involved politics trumps reality and their efforts are hampered by both sides jockeying for supremacy.  When Presidential candidate John McCain suspends his campaign to join in the negotiations, it just made the whole effort even harder.  After receiving a troubling call from the head of General Electric, Paulson realizes that the financial problems of Wall Street have grown so big that it’s even affecting entrenched companies like GE.  Eventually, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is passed which gives the banks a ton of money for them to get credit flowing again, but no restrictions on how the funds are to be used.
Seeing the entire financial crisis distilled into a movie really sharpens the disgust that most Americans have for the greedy tendencies that Wall Street and the banking community shared that almost led us all to ruin. The fact that these people who caused all of our nation’s troubles got to set the terms on how to use the money is just insane and it makes me wonder about our future as a nation.  The film presents a stark and very smart look at the entire mess and we get to see the individual power players that wielded so much influence.  The film has a fantastic cast of people that have been well cast for their roles.  In fact, it was the cast that drew to me this movie in the first place since I’d be happy to any movie that stars William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, James Woods, Bill Pullman, Tony Shalhoub, Billy Crudup, Cynthia Nixon, and Topher Grace in it. All of them are excellent in the movie and always like to see James Woods get pissed off in movies and his character has a good reason to be in this one.  Director Curtis Hanson keeps what would normally be a pretty dry subject interesting and dynamic.  This is a great movie that balances it’s entertainment value with it’s desire to inform viewers of what happened without taking political sides.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

Like usual, HBO has once again provided another stellar visual presentation for one of their movies.  This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks crisp and clean transfer, with rich colors, sharp details, and nice inky black levels.  From the boardrooms to the streets of New York, and to the news broadcasts, colors pop off the screen nicely and help keep things visually interesting.  Detail is fine enough that you can see the pores on the actors’ faces and read every bit of the news banners during the TV broadcasts that appear at the bottom of the screen.  I didn’t notice and scratches or any other blemishes on this transfer.  This is a beautiful looking movie to see on Blu-ray.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

To Big To Fail’s DTS-HD Master Audio mix is pretty low key but it’s effective.  As this is a dialogue driven movie, the focus of this mix is on that which is fine as it sounds great and intelligible.  The rear channels don’t get as much to do but they occasion come to life to provide some ambiance  for the streets of New York or activity in the meeting rooms.  The score by Marcelo Zavros is clear and doesn't overwhelm the rest of the mix.

Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

I expected more extras than this but what is here is interesting.  It would have been even better if at least a director’s commentary had been included.
  • The Making of Too Big To Fail (Blu-ray with HBO Select only) – The cast and crew share their thoughts on the events that inspire the film during this extremely short clip.
  • Opening the Vault on the Financial Crisis (Blu-ray with HBO Select only) – The cast, crew and financial experts discuss the origins of the economic crisis in an interesting featurette that runs almost twenty minutes.
  • Timeline of a Crisis – An in-depth look at pivotal events that impacted the economic crisis that includes key dates and events that affected the market.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

With faith in the banking system and congressional leaders at an all time low, this movie is still timely and serves as a sharp reminder of lessons that most likely haven’t been learned yet by the very people who caused it all.  It’s more likely that that it’s still full speed ahead on their gamble big philosophy.  It’s discouraging to read the movie’s post script that informs us that thank to the cash infusion that was intended to prevent the market from collapsing ended up making some of the banks even bigger than they were before and are now listed themselves as being too big to fail.  This movie is highly recommended!
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