If one were to watch "Too Big to Fail," HBO's new TV movie about the 2008 banking crisis, with the mute button on, they'd see a lot of middle-aged white guys in suit frowning, furrowing their brows and looking generally displeased in a never-ending series of board meetings and conference calls.
Turn the sound back on, and those frowny middle-aged white guys would be spewing a whole lot of expository dialogue about loans, bailouts and the state of the U.S. economy circa 2008. On second thought, where's that mute button again?
The buzz: Based on Andrew Ross Sorkin's bestselling book about the biggest financial crisis this country has experienced since the Great Depression, "Too Big to Fail" is a cinematic take on the people who helped bring the world's economy to its knees... and then scrounged together a few hundred billion government dollars to help get it going again (how nice!). The HBO film features a stellar cast, anchored by top-notch performances from William Hurt, Ed Asner, Billy Crudup, Paul Giamatti, Topher Grace and Cynthia Nixon.
The verdict: Too dull to be a fictional movie, too fictionalized to be a straight documentary, "Too Big to Fail" ultimately ends up in that unsatisfying gray area that plagues so many biopics. These kinds of TV movies are notoriously hard to pull off—characters that should be conflated for the sake of simplifying and focusing the story aren't, while dialogue that establishes basic tenets of economics for the viewer sound ridiculous and forced. While the threat of a fate worse than the Great Depression looms large over the film, we as an audience experience nothing of the real world repercussions of the banking collapse. It's essentially a non-event, a near-event, that, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, is fascinating because of what could have happened much more than what actually did. This makes for excellent economics class discussions, but, at least in this incarnation, sub-par television.
Did you know? ...that bonuses for high-level executives actually rose in the years following the banking crisis? U-S-A! U-S-A!
"Too Big to Fail" premieres Monday, May 23, at 9 p.m. on HBO.