In the realm of made-for-TV movies, there is no question that HBO has been leading the way with critically acclaimed and Emmy nominated fare within recent years. Why? They simply have made an effort to be a prestige label and to support and produce edgier, more sophisticated entertainment--oftentimes projects that you can't imagine any other network or studio championing. Turning Andrew Ross Sorkin's provocative chronology "Too Big To Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System--and Themselves" into a film version seemed like a somewhat dubious idea. Financial crisis as entertainment isn't the most comfortable notion, and yet the story is rife with drama and intrigue. Curtis Hanson's (L.A. Confidential) riveting docu-drama chronicles the pivotal period in 2008 where the United States, and indeed the world, faced an insurmountable financial collapse. As we still feel the devastating repercussions and are still exposed to the some of the same risk, this makes "Too Big To Fail" a must-see project for serious minded and adult audiences.
Centered around Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (William Hurt, who we will be seeing around Emmy time), the film charts the period when Lehman Brothers was spiraling into bankruptcy and how the government's decision not to bail them out exacerbated a worldwide crisis with AIG. Like a house of cards, the tenuous balance of the economic system was in danger of toppling unless some major moves and compromises could be made. Introducing a huge cast of characters, the narrative puts Paulson at the center of the action as he wrestles to maintain an overall financial stability. As a dramatic recreation and interpretation of events, this plays as a blow-by-blow thriller. Even though you might be aware of the outcome, it doesn't lessen the film's brisk pace or unrelenting intensity. Seriously, I found this to be edge of your seat exciting as well as enlightening. Truly an important piece for the time in which we live.
Aside from Hurt's stellar work (his best performance in years), the film boasts an oily and uncompromising turn by James Wood as the Lehman CEO and an increasingly desperate portrayal of the President of the Federal Reserve Bank by a great Billy Crudup. In addition to these larger roles, the film boasts the most impressive cast of the year with Paul Giamatti, Ed Asner, Bill Pullman, Topher Grace, Cynthia Nixon, Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Modine, Kathy Baker and many other familiar faces. Smart, provocative, chilling, literate, and most of all, incredibly entertaining--I highly recommend "Too Big To Fail" as one of the year's best dramas produced for television. In truth, I didn't expect to be as engaged and involved as I became. Anticipating a somewhat dry history lesson, HBO has instead served up an irresistible and important contemporary thriller. Don't miss it. KGHarris, 5/11.