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HBO Films presents a searing account of the 2008 financial crisis. Too Big to Fail, based on Andrew Ross Sorkin's bestselling book, provides an in-depth look at the intersection of Wall Street and Washington and how their decisions impact Main Street. (From the HBO synopsis)

 Too Big to Fail
Too Big to Fail centers its story around Henry Paulson (William Hurt), the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury during the 2008 financial crisis. The impressive ensemble cast, including James Woods, Edward Asner, Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup and Tony Shalhoub, plays various bank CEO's and staff members. Hurt gives a wonderful performance. I'm not familiar with Paulson's personality and mannerisms, but Hurt showcases a range of emotions and delivers dialogue in a wholly convincing manner. The underrated Billy Crudup also gives a fine performance as one of his staff members, and James Woods plays the CEO of Lehman Brothers, Dick Fuld, in a very inspired casting choice.

During the first third of the movie, I really can't say I felt engaged. Pacing is not an issue, as the film wastes no time getting down to business and dishing out information, but prior knowledge of company names and the parties involved would be an advantage to viewers here. The script never pauses to stop and explain who is who and what relationships they have with each other. Those who aren't already familiar with relevant financial news (that's me) might find the first chunk of the movie a bit daunting to keep up with. But once the big picture settles in around the halfway mark, the film takes advantage of its compelling subject matter and the enormity of the situation can be felt to the very end.

 Too Big to Fail
I've never really taken the time to read up extensively on the 2008 financial crisis and learn about all of the people involved, so I'm not the best candidate for judging the authenticity of the characters and how they are portrayed in Too Big to Fail. The movie doesn't spend a lot of time on character, but it makes Henry Paulson out to be the sympathetic hero of the story, while the bank CEO's all seem like selfish jerks. Maybe that's authentic, but the lack of dimension bothered me, and I'd rather have a movie that lays out all the facts and chooses not to take sides. But characterizations are not this movies primary drive, and the dialogue driven drama is effective and captivating. However, there is one scene around the midpoint of the movie where Paulson's staff members stop to explain the origin of the crisis to someone, and it is painfully clear that this is the movie's attempt to inform the viewer using simplistic terms. Thankfully it's the only idiosyncrasy of its kind.

Curtis Hanson aptly directs the film. Wonder Boys and L.A. Confidential are personal favorites of mine, so I was happy to see Hanson doing work as a director. This is his first film since 2007's poorly received Lucky You. Those watching it because Hanson is involved might be disappointed, as this really isn't a director's film at all. It's talking heads, discussion tables and lots of phone calls. If you're lucky, an occasional phone call will take place outdoors to give you some variation. Very little visual flair is applied to any of it, but it is competently shot and serves the story at hand well enough without distraction. I don't think I'll ever watch Too Big to Fail again. It's a new perspective that I'm glad to have taken part in, but there just isn't enough meat to this kind of movie to make it worth revisiting.

 Too Big to Fail


HBO continues to impress in the high definition market with a strong 1080p transfer. Even though it was filmed for television, the 35mm format was utilized and it looks great. There's a very light filmic grain over the image that is mostly consistent, though sometimes more noticeable than others. The movie mostly takes place in dimly lit government buildings or outdoors on an overcast day, so there's not a very dynamic range of color or contrast to the presentation, but skin tones look accurate and I never noticed any of the shimmer or halos that often plague softly lit scenes. I noticed some very minor blocking in a couple of scenes, but nothing prominent enough to upset videophiles. Detail isn't as strong as other contemporary television movies shot in digital, but it looks as good as any modern 35mm films does.


There isn't much going on with this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The rear and LFE channels might as well not exist, as they are used so sparingly. Everything comes from the center speaker, while the music and some additional noise will join in from the stereo speakers. The score from Marcelo Zarvos ( The Good Shepherd, Hollywoodland) does an excellent job of setting the tone throughout Too Big to Fail without drawing too much attention to itself. While the sound space isn't utilized in any real way, dialogue is still well represented and easy to hear. I never had trouble telling what the characters were saying and never needed to adjust my volume to hear softly spoken dialogue. Subject matter taken into account, this audio track gets the job done, but it never comes close to utilizing the technology.

 Too Big to Fail


Aside from the included DVD and digital copy of the movie, there are three features on the Blu-ray disc. The Making of Too Big to Fail (HD, 01:47) feels more like a commercial than a proper making-of. It's a very brief look at the movie with a little footage from the set and some interview footage of cast members and Sorkin. It would be a nice little introduction to the movie, but it is poorly labeled. Opening the Vault on the Financial Crisis (HD, 19:07) serves as an educational featurette, where cast, crew and financial experts discuss the origin of the financial crisis and the parties involved. It's a solid feature for those who want to expand their knowledge, but it doesn't offer much information that the movie didn't present. The final feature, Timeline of a Criss (HD), is an interactive graph that allows you to sort through relevant dates in 2007 and 2008 that lead up to and through the financial crisis. For each date, a paragraph of relevant information about what was happening at that date is given, as well as the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It's a nice little hands-on feature.

 Too Big to Fail


Those who want an educational look at the 2008 financial crisis should look to the documentary Inside Job, which is very entertaining in its own right. Too Big to Fail has a great cast and offers a new perspective on an inherently compelling issue, but the lack of dimensional characterizations and the monotonous presentation keep it from having much replay value. HBO delivers with a great video presentation and an audio track that services the story at hand. Extras are brief, but educational.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.