Curtis Hanson Scores Again in ‘Too Big to Fail’

By Rob Patterson

I am surprised at how frequently I encounter people who say they don’t watch much TV if at all, and even those who don’t own a TV or only use it to watch DVDs and videos. Not that their choices aren’t valid and even understandable, mind you. I have my own Luddite and insular tendencies as well.

But there’s a part of me that scratches my head at such people. Not that I would necessarily advocate TV watching for everyone. One of many reasons I watch a lot of television is that I spend a good amount of time as a writer looking into a computer screen and inputting information. At the end of my workday, reversing the equation and having the screen give me input provides a nice break. And it’s not that I don’t also turn off the TV and read all sorts of books. But, yeah, I watch a fair amount of television.

As I’ve said a number of times in this space, I contend that we are living in a golden age of television. That’s not to say that there isn’t a plethora of tripe and crap on TV as well, and that stuff is what is by and large most popular. In this age of hundreds of channels, there’s far more of that than worthy programming. But the worthy programming that’s out there is in a number of ways the best TV has ever had to offer. And I also feel like the proportion of worthy visual entertainment on TV may even outweigh the ratio of good vs. bad in the movies made today. TV also provides a very effective window on the world, and not just in a news and documentary way. These days fine dramatic works shed much insight and perspective into the way the world works and how people live and behave.

And one marked tendency I see that I believe is growing is dramatic TV shows that portray recent events in a compelling and insightful way. (This issue’s “picks” column also follows this thread to some degree.) And one that wowed me with its dramatic weight, tension and punch as well as what seems an admirable faithfulness to the facts is the recent HBO movie Too Big To Fail.

Based on New York Times financial writer Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book of the same name, it tells the inside story of the bank failures of just a few years back that were a major factor in our current bad economy. So the subject of the film is highly relevant to most anyone in America who isn’t living a self-sustained off-the-grid existence. It’s about something big and important that has had a major effect on the nation (as well as the world) and hence almost all of us.

The film takes what might a first glance appear to be a rather dry subject matter and weaves a crackling work of drama from it. One reason why it’s so good is its director: Curtis Hanson, who made one of my favorite movies of recent memory, L.A. Confidential, and a close runner-up as well, The Wonder Boys. He even made what could have been – and I feared would be – a work of trendy exploitation starring rapper Eminen with 8 Mile, and delivered a surprisingly solid and engaging film. But just as much credit goes to the script as the direction and certainly also to the actors involved. James Woods gives one of the best performances of his career as Dick Fuld, the CEO of Lehman Brothers, giving a vivid sense of callow clueless detachment from reality. Fellow veteran William Hurt also shines in his portrayal of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Paul Giamatti, mainly known for comedy, injects nuance and powerful character into Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. And they are hardly alone.

Too Big To Fail begs the cliché “must see TV” and makes it real. It’s a riveting story rich with drama even if it largely unfolds in offices and meeting rooms. It provides insight into an important event from very recent history that still not just ripples but sends waves through our daily lives and the state of the nation.

Why most everyone would not want to have a TV and a cable or satellite hook-up to see this film befuddles me in some ways. But then again, that’s just me, and like this column, just one man’s opinion.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2011

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