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Changelian: HBO’s ‘Too Big to Fail’ looks too good to miss

Armen Changelian

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Some stories need to be told. Some stories – even if painful, depressing, complicated or confusing – need to be understood. When a global crisis shakes the foundation of society, impacting everyone from the President to your next-door neighbor, it’s a story that people deserve to hear.

And it’s a story that’s too big to forget.

Tonight, HBO premieres “Too Big To Fail,” a two-hour drama based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book of the same name. The film, directed by Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential,” “8 Mile”), chronicles the 2008 financial collapse, specifically focusing on the implosion of Lehman Brothers and the domino effect that threw Wall Street into chaos.

The movie manages to pack the impossibly complex details of the financial crisis into a mere 98 minutes while sparing no expense on an impressive array of cast members. William Hurt stars as Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson, while Paul Giamatti portrays a convincing-looking Ben Bernanke. James Woods also brings his villainous charm to the role of Richard Fuld, CEO of a collapsing Lehman Brothers. The remainder of the cast is no less star-studded, with performances from Ed Asner as Warren Buffet, Billy Crudup as Timothy Geithner, and Bill Pullman and Tony Shalhoub as two of the many other investment bank CEOs.

This is not the first movie to tackle the Wall Street meltdown. The 2010 film “Inside Job” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary for its in-depth analysis, research and explanation of the 2008 financial crisis.

But “Too Big To Fail” tells the story from a fresh perspective. The film aims to vividly portray some of the key players in the Washington-Wall Street relationship while giving viewers an inside look at the decisions – both heroic and disastrous – that shaped the present and future of the global economy. While many everyday observers of the financial meltdown may have gleaned a basic understanding of the causes and consequences of the crisis, “Too Big To Fail” breaks down those first few fateful days, offering viewers an illustration of what really happened as well as a frightening glimpse of how bad it could have been.

As Andrew Ross Sorkin and the other film contributors explain, “Too Big To Fail” focuses on the panicked effort to save Lehman Brothers from bankruptcy and to prevent a domino effect that would cripple the remaining investment banks teetering on the edge of collapse.

But those with no sympathy for big bank CEOs may also be interested in the more widespread consequences of Wall Street’s failure. Sorkin explains that the collapse of many investment banks could have crippled not only other banks, but also a variety of massive, interdependent organizations and conglomerates, from General Electric to McDonald’s. He said, “the week that Lehman Brothers went under, there was a rumor going around that McDonald’s wasn’t going to be able to pay its people the next week…that’s the connection between Wall Street and Main Street.”

Lehman’s connection to Bank of America didn’t allow the bank to lend out money to McDonald’s in the face of Lehman’s impending collapse. Widespread Main Street depression like this was imminent in the face of Wall Street’s failure, and HBO is illustrating exactly how close we came to the edge of a catastrophe much worse than any depression this country has seen.

“Too Big To Fail” takes its name from the idea that a single financial institution may be so massively interconnected and vital that its collapse could trigger a much larger collapse of the general economy. It’s a terrifying concept, and terrifyingly important to our own lives. Perhaps that’s why this film to is too important to miss.

If you have a chance to watch HBO tomorrow tonight, consider paying attention to this film. This is a story that needs telling, but it also needs people to listen.

Armen Changelian is a Weinberg sophomore and DAILY blogger. He can be reached at armenchangelian2013@u.northwestern.edu and followed at twitter.com/shroomalogs.

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