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Too Big to Fail is an American television drama 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.

Too Big to Fail
Too Big to Fail film.jpg
Based on Too Big to Fail
Written by Peter Gould
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Starring William Hurt
Edward Asner
Billy Crudup
Paul Giamatti
Topher Grace
Cynthia Nixon
Bill Pullman
Tony Shalhoub
James Woods
Theme music composer Marcelo Zarvos
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Ezra Swerdlow
Cinematography Kramer Morgenthau

Barbara Tulliver

Plummy Tucker
Running time 98 minutes
Production company(s) Deuce Three Productions
Original network HBO Films
Original release
  • May 23, 2011 (2011-05-23)


Plot summaryEdit

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. CEO Dick Fuld (James Woods) is combative, but is seeking external investment to raise much-needed capital. He asks Paulson to put in a good word with Warren Buffett, but Paulson refuses to vouch for Lehman and Fuld thinks Buffett's offer is too low. Meanwhile, Fuld is told that he also needs to make significant personnel changes. Fuld reluctantly fires COO Joe Gregory and CFO Erin Callan, naming Bart McDade as the new President and COO. McDade negotiates a deal with Korean investors, but the deal falls through when Fuld interrupts the negotiations and tries to convince the Koreans that they are undervaluing some of the real estate assets. Interim Assistant Secretary of the Treasury warns Fuld that he may have to accept an offer that priced Lehman's shares in the single-digits.

In China for the 2008 Summer Olympics, Paulson's Chinese counterparts press him about the crisis and tells him of a Russian proposal to take down the U.S. economy by jointly selling all their mortgage and Treasury bond investments. While trying to find a potential buyer for Lehman, but Paulson is adamant that the government will not subsidize any more acquisitions as they did with Bear Stearns. But the market doesn't believe that, especially after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are nationalized to prevent a bankruptcy.

As J. Christopher Flowers negotiates a Bank of America investment in Lehman, AIG reaches out to him for help with their precarious situation News that the government will not subsidize the Lehman sale results in a breakdown of the Bank of America talks, so Paulson gathers the CEOs of other major banks to find a private market solution to support the Lehman sale to Bank of America. During a break in negotiations, Merrill Lynch approaches Bank of America to buy them instead, which Paulson tacitly okays. Flowers also informs Paulson about the much bigger crisis developing at AIG.

With Bank of America purchasing Merrill Lynch, Barclays is the only available option for Lehman, but they are worried about Lehman's toxic assets. The CEOs of the other major banks agree to subsidize the Barclays-Lehman deal by funding a multi-billion-dollar entity to buy Lehman's toxic assets. Barclays is prepared to accept the terms of the merger, but British banking regulators were not properly informed and refuse to approve the deal. To prevent market turmoil from killing Bank of America's purchase of Merrill Lynch, Paulson instructs SEC chairman Christopher Cox to direct the Lehman board to declare bankruptcy before the market opens. Cox is hesitant, but eventually gives a vague direction to Lehman that they should resolve the situation.

The initial reaction on Wall Street to the Lehman bankruptcy is favorable, as is the political reaction. However, Paulson quickly learns that Lehman's counterparty risk is affecting the entire financial market, and that the stock market is in freefall. While trying to deal with AIG crisis, Paulson receives a call from Lloyd Blankfein, CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, complaining that British regulators have frozen Lehman customer accounts, including transactions with Goldman Sachs and other institutions. He also hears from Jeffrey Immelt (Tom Tammi) of General Electric, who tells him that GE is unable to finance its daily operations, and Christine Lagarde, France's minister of economic affairs, who criticizes him for the turmoil Lehman's bankruptcy is causing in European markets. She warns him that they face an even bigger problem with AIG and presses Paulson to not make the same mistake with AIG.

Paulson's team realizes that if AIG is allowed to fail, its insurance portfolio will default and the entire financial industry will suffer catastrophic losses, because AIG insures or reinsures so many business and financial transactions. The Treasury rescues AIG with an $85 Billion loan secured by AIG stocks that effectively made the federal government the majority owner of AIG. Bernanke argues that the status quo is unsustainable and that the Congress must pass legislation to authorize any continued intervention by the Fed or the Treasury. But with two months before the presidential election, Paulson realizes that this will be a difficult proposal.

With the availability of credit drying up, Paulson's plan is to buy the toxic assets from the banks to take the risk off of their books and to increase their available cash reserves. Direct capital injection is considered and rejected as bank nationalization. Timothy Geithner (Billy Crudup), President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, realizes that the market cannot wait for Congressional action. He attempts to arrange mergers between consumer banks and investment banks in order to allow the investment banks access to the Federal Reserve's discount window, but this proves untenable. Nevertheless, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs obtain billions in new capital from Mitsubishi and Buffet, respectively.

Bernanke and Paulson lobby Congress, with Bernanke emphasizing that a lack of credit helped make the Wall Street Crash of 1929 into the Great Depression, and that if Congress fails to act, the fallout this time will be far worse. The legislation looks likely to pass, but is thrown into chaos when Senator John McCain suspends his campaign for president to join the negotiations. Paulson threatens McCain if he tanks the bill, then begs Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi not to back away from the negotiations. However, as the House votes are tallied, too many congressmen vote "no", causing an immediate drop in the Dow of 600 points. After a wave of panic and personal haranguing from President George W. Bush, the legislation passes on a second attempt, and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is signed into law.

Paulson and Bernanke realize that just buying toxic assets will not work, because it would take too long. They decide that the only way to get credit flowing again is through direct capital injections. With the help of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chair Sheila Bair and the threat of an FDIC audit, Paulson informs the participating banks that they will be receiving mandatory capital injections so that they may use this money to get credit moving again. The banks eventually agree, but Paulson balks at putting additional restrictions on how the funds are to be used. Paulson's Treasury deputy for public affairs (Cynthia Nixon) laments that the parties who caused the crisis are being allowed to dictate the terms of how they should use the billions that the federal government is effectively giving them. Bernanke states that he hopes the banks will use the funds as intended.

An epilogue reveals that although markets did stabilize and the banks repaid their Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, credit standards continued to tighten resulting in rising unemployment and foreclosures. As bank mergers continued in the wake of the crisis, these banks became even larger and, at the time of the film, 10 financial institutions held 77% of all U.S. banking assets and have been declared too big to fail.


The cast includes the following:[1]

Critical receptionEdit

The A.V. Club gave the film a B rating.[2] The movie received generally favorable reviews from Metacritic, with the show receiving an aggregate score of 67/100 from 17 reviews.[3]


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)

Home mediaEdit

The DVD was released on June 12, 2012.[4]


  1. ^ "HBO: Too Big to Fail: Cast & Crew". HBO. Retrieved 2012-01-31. 
  2. ^ "Too Big To Fail". The A.V. Club. 
  3. ^ "Too Big To Fail". Metacritic. 
  4. ^ "Too Big to Fail –". Retrieved 28 June 2012. 

External linksEdit