If you’ve been keeping up with your HBO original programming schedule, you know that Too Big To Fail, the movie based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s 2009 book, airs next Monday evening. Last night was the premiere at the Museum of Modern Art and while the trailers looked promising, in order to make sure none of you wasted any of your precious time or DVR space in the event it wasn’t worth it, I attended to see how things turned out and report back. Warren Buffett did the same, though was initially met with some opposition at the door, in an encounter that went like this:
Door girls: Do you have your ticket?
Door girls: You need your tickets.
Buffett: Oh, uh…we were invited..
[One of Buffett's dates]: This is Warren Buffett.
[The group is seated]
Other people in attendance who did have their tickets, included but were not limited to: George Soros (with a entourage of lady friends), Meredith Whitney in a white pinstriped suit, Becky Quick, Rodgin Cohen, Regis Philbin, Michael Douglas and all the actors from the flick (William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup, James Woods, Bill Pullman, Evan Handler, Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Modine, Ed Asner), though not all the real life people they portray (Jamie Dimon was getting ready for today’s JPM shareholder meeting in Ohio, Fuld was probably busy plotting his comeback).
The movie condenses Sorkin’s 539 page book into about 90 minutes and traces the slightly tense moments that were 2008 just after Bear Stearns was bought to the day Paulson locked the top bank CEO’s in a room and and forced them to accept his capital injections. William Hurt does a pretty badass Hank– who gets the most screen time by far– having spent a few days fishing with him in preparation for the role (during which one would hope HP described what it was like threatening to send Ken Lewis home in a body bag if he backed out of the Merrill Lynch deal). I liked it, you probably will too.** Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Who Will Like TBTF
– Hank Paulson: The former Treasury Secretary is the lead role; the movie shows his sleepless nights, his afternoons spent vomiting, and his attempt to SAVE AMERICA, all without shotgunning just one beer or a single tablespoon of Pepto-Bismol like you know he wanted to but which Christian Science prohibits. The movie even gets into his bird fetish, opening with Paulson observing a majestic red tailed hawk outside his window.
– Tim Geithner: Who producers decided resembles Billy Crudup (who plays “freaked the fuck out” pretty well)
– Ben Bernanke: Paul Giamatti grew a beard and (adorable) jowls to play the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, which he mostly does from the shadows- in a poorly lit room where he and Paulson discuss the fact that the economy might collapse over breakfast or emerging from a corner, where he might as well be holding a flashlight under his chin as he informs Congress or the bank CEOs that they can 1. do what he and Paulson are telling them to do or 2. don’t and be responsible for a Depression worse than the one he studied at Princeton (his pump up speeches are some of the best parts of the movie)
– Jamie Dimon: Every time JD- played by Bill Pullman- appears on screen we’re told in one way or another that he’s the smart banker, the responsible banker, the King of the Bankers (**Dimon’s only gripe may be that Bill Pullman doesn’t entirely pull off the innate coolness, which isn’t his fault- Jamie was born this way and some things can’t be taught; it’d be like asking Pavarotti, “teach me to sing like you.”)
– Lloyd Blankfein: The Goldman CEO is described as “a superstar,” but more importantly, Evan Handler actually nails the various The Lloyd Face(s), which some of us (me) were very skeptical anyone could do
– John Mack: While Tony Shalhoub’s Southern accent is more of a cross between a Southern and Western accent, Mack’s character fares well and gets one of the funnier (fictional?) lines of the movie: “Great, here comes E-Harmony,” when Geithner is calling him about the idea to merge the investment banks with commercial banks.
– Vikram Pandit: If he can get past the “no one knows if he’s running Citi or Citi’s running him” line, and is ready to laugh about all this, the actor who plays him does justice to the scene in which Pandit turns down Lloyd.
– CNBC: The network financial crisis coverage is threaded throughout the movie with Erin Burnett, Maria Bartiromo and Steve Liesman getting the most shout-outs
– Christian Scientists: They ought to appreciate the scene in which Hank Paulson flushes the sleeping pills someone on his staff gave him, as a commitment to his faith.
– Andrew Ross Sorkin: Someone got a cameo
– The (Our) Lehman Coffee Cart Guy: Oh yeah, there’s a nice lingering shot of his setup.
People Who Will Not Like TBTF
– John Thain: If the (unintentionally hilariously) bad toupee on Matthew Modine doesn’t do it, the fact that he’s pointedly made to look like the world’s biggest prick in every scene he appears might do it (Thain is portrayed as “selfish” (Paulson/Hurt’s words), conniving and greedy, and arguably comes off worse than Fuld)
– Charlie Gasparino: Who is not featured in any of the CNBC footage
– People Who Are “Tim Geithner Can Go Fuck Himself” Purists: This group will likely not appreciate the rewrite of the line uttered by John Mack while trying to do a deal with Mitsubishi and being repeatedly called by Tim Geithner. In the movie, he tells his secretary to pass on the message, “Tell Geithner he can blow me”
– Warren Buffett: On the one hand, when discussed by other characters, the point is driven home that he’s The Most Important Banker/Elder Statesman/ What Have You in the world. On the other, Ed Asner is about 40 pounds heavier, looks like a slob throughout the movie and deploys no folksy business wisdom con aberrant sex fetish. On the third hand, Buffett told me at 4 Seasons party afterwards that he thought the movie/Ed were great (and that “he did an excellent job portraying such a glamorous guy”)
– Alan Greenspan: Probably proud of the mention (Paulson to Bernanke: “Greenspan suggested we buy up all the vacant houses and burn them down”) but miffed at not having the entire movie be about him and his reign as Grand High Poobah
– Chris Cox: Comes off as kind of a pussy/imbecile but perhaps he’ll appreciate the accuracy?
– Barney Frank: Totally at a loss for whether or not he’ll approve of the outside the box casting of Dan Hedaya.
– Dick Fuld: Hear me out on this one. Yes, the movie (accurately) depicts Dick Fuld thinking that everything at Lehman was all good in the hood, that the only problem was “the god damn shorts,” that Lehman, as late as August 2008, would “stand strong and eat Goldman’s lunch,” that he wouldn’t fuck up the potential deal with Korea Development Bank by coming in and making the case that Lehman’s real estate holdings had a lot of value. But Fuld is also portrayed as actually caring about the bank and it’s employees, in his own way (which, if he wanted to show he cared, shouldn’t have blown a hole in their balance sheet and done some other stuff but retrospect, etc). Plus, he gets to watch himself be played by James Woods and who wouldn’t like that?
– Blankfein Humor Scholars: These people will likely be divided in their opinion that LB’s quips are generally more of the more subtle variety than, when discussing Paulson’s failure to get the authority from the FSA to do the Barclays/Lehman deal, “He didn’t drop the ball- he dropped the ball, kicked the coach in the nuts and took a shit in the quarterback’s mouth”
**Although you might not like the closing captions which I think some of you should probably close your eyes for if you’ve got blood pressure/heart problems and which I want to mention so badly but I won’t so see it and then we can discuss.