Too Big to Fail is a U.S. 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.

Plot summary

Too Big to Fail chronicles the 2008 financial meltdown, focusing on the actions of U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (William Hurt) to contain the problems during the period of August 2008 to October 13, 2008. Dick Fuld (James Woods), CEO of Lehman Brothers, is seeking external investment, but investors are wary as Lehman is seriously exposed to toxic housing assets and the Treasury is ideologically opposed to offering any sort of bailout as it did for Bear Stearns.

Paulson attempts to arrange a private solution to the Lehman problem, and both Bank of America and Barclays express interest in Lehman's good assets. Bank of America instead chooses to purchase Merrill Lynch. Barclays is prepared to accept the terms of the merger, but British banking regulators refuse to approve the deal. Paulson directs Fuld to declare bankruptcy before the market opens.

The initial reaction on Wall Street is favorable, as is the political reaction. However, Paulson quickly learns that Lehman's counterparty risk is impacting the entire financial market, and that the stock market is in freefall. Paulson receives a call from Jeffrey Immelt (Tom Tammi) of General Electric, who tells him that GE is unable to finance its daily operations. Paulson realizes the crisis has spread to Main Street.

Another crisis arises as multinational insurance corporation AIG begins to collapse. 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. The Treasury takes over AIG. Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti), Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, 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.

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. 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. 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 begs Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi not to back away from the negotiations, but too many Republicans 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 decides that the only way to get credit flowing again is 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 and they must use this money to get credit moving again. The banks 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. 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]

  • William Hurt as Henry Paulson (U.S. Treasury Secretary and former Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs)
  • Edward Asner as Warren Buffett (Primary shareholder, Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway)
  • Billy Crudup as Timothy Geithner (President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York)
  • Paul Giamatti as Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve)
  • Topher Grace as Jim Wilkinson (Chief of Staff, U.S. Treasury Department)
  • Matthew Modine as John Thain (Chairman and CEO, Merrill Lynch)
  • Cynthia Nixon as Michele Davis (Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Public Relations and Director of Policy Planning)
  • Michael O'Keefe as Chris Flowers (Chairman and CEO, J.C. Flowers & Co.)
  • Bill Pullman as Jamie Dimon (Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase)
  • Tony Shalhoub as John Mack (Chairman and CEO, Morgan Stanley)
  • James Woods as Dick Fuld (Chairman and CEO, Lehman Brothers)
  • Ayad Akhtar as Neel Kashkari (Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for International Economics and Development)
  • Kathy Baker as Wendy Paulson (Wife of Henry Paulson)
  • Amy Carlson as Erin Callan (CFO, Lehman Brothers)
  • Evan Handler as Lloyd Blankfein (Chairman and CEO, Goldman Sachs)
  • John Heard as Joe Gregory (President and COO, Lehman Brothers)
  • Dan Hedaya as Rep. Barney Frank (Chairman of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee (D-MA))
  • Peter Hermann as Christopher Cox (Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission)
  • Chance Kelly as Bart McDade (President and COO, Lehman Brothers)
  • Tom Mason as Bob Willumstad (Chairman and CEO, AIG)
  • Ajay Mehta as Vikram Pandit (CEO, Citigroup)
  • Laila Robins as Christine Lagarde (French Finance Minister)
  • Victor Slezak as Greg Curl (Director of Planning, Bank of America)
  • Joey Slotnick as Dan Jester (Retired Goldman Sachs banker and newly appointed Paulson Advisor)
  • Casey Biggs as Richard Kovacevich (Chairman, Wells Fargo & Company)

Critical reception

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

  • Nominated: Outstanding Miniseries or Movie
  • Nominated: Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special (Curtis Hanson)
  • Nominated: Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or Movie
  • Nominated: Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special
  • Nominated: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie (William Hurt)
  • Nominated: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie (Paul Giamatti & James Woods)
  • Nominated: Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special (Peter Gould)
  • Nominated: Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie
  • Nominated: Outstanding Main Title Design
  • Nominated: Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie

2012 Golden Globe Awards

  • Nominated: Best Miniseries or Television Film
  • Nominated: Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film - (William Hurt)
  • Nominated: Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film - (Paul Giamatti)

2012 Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Won: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie - (Paul Giamatti)
  • Nominated: Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie - (James Woods)

2012 Writers Guild of America Awards

  • Won: Writers Guild Award for Long Form Adaptation - (Peter Gould)

Home media

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


  1. ^"HBO: Too Big to Fail: Cast & Crew". HBO. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  2. ^"TV Review Too Big To Fail · TV Club · The A.V. Club". line feed character in |title= at position 3 (help)
  3. ^"Too Big To Fail". Metacritic.
  4. ^"Too Big to Fail –". Retrieved 28 June 2012.

External links

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