“If we don’t act now, we won’t have an economy on Monday”
-Paul Giamatti as Ben Bernanke
It’s somehow sadly appropriate that the HBO’s film adaptation of “Too Big to Fail” premieres as the Midwest and the south roil from inexplicable, unpredictable natural disasters. For all that the film does to educate financial outsiders on the details of the 2008 financial meltdown (as noted in the NYTs and Salon), audiences are only given access to the dynamic world of crisis management – as far as we can discern, that crisis could be supplanted with any ‘unpredictable’ natural disaster. The problem with this is that the process of assigning fault in the financial meltdown is the one area where drama has been soft-pedaled beyond recognition.
The ‘crisis’ is discussed as though its fulmination was completely unpredictable. The government players are depicted as being exceptionally skilled in their responsive assessment and tactics, along with their ability to articulate the full breath of the impending disaster, but these are qualities that exculpate them from their failure to predict and/or mitigate the industry-wide generation of toxic assets. Watching Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti) and Geithner (Billy Crudup) impress us with their laudable talent for the real-world analysis of a concerned realist, only distracts and deviates from the idea that there’s a culpability, not only for the banks, the lenders, but for all government players involved.
“Too Big to Fail” does an amazing job of convincing audiences that the 2008 financial crisis was an abrupt event that was more or less unobservable, un-discussed, and unknown, up until the point where Paulson and friends start firing up their blackberrys. It ultimately propagates the popular mythology surrounding the crisis; that its causes weren’t systemic or foreseeable in any capacity, and that financial institutions and regulators had not been navigating the causes of this hypothetical crisis for years prior (which should ultimately suggest that this is a very different kind of ‘crisis’).
Presenting the ever-increasing heavy-lidded distress of Paulson (William Hurt) only shares with us the burden of crises management, and only indirectly suggests that Paulson has more on his conscience then implementing a resolution.
………Just as it was trumpeted across the nation by media sources of all shapes and sizes, Ben Bernanke is awarded the prescience of correctly managing the crisis – his timely insistence on de-escalation measures. But this should not discourage our need for clarity on the mismanagement of the causal agents, and/or “outweigh what blame he deserves for causing the crisis in the first place.”
To this end, “To Big to Fail” edges more on libelous, and less on affirming innocuous convention.