Well, at least they got the story right.
In about 100 minutes they managed to explain a very complicated series of rapid-fire events in an understandable, and even entertaining way. The writing was engaging. The acting was great. And so forth.
But ultimately, HBO’s “Too Big To Fail”… fails… because it punts on the whole “blame” issue.
Why with the blame? Well, put simply, so we don’t do this shit again.
Yes, yes yes. The bankers were greedy idiots: hard-headed and childish zillionaires who nearly brought down our entire economic system because they were dumb enough to believe (or to convince themselves) that “real estate only goes up”.
(I mean, really? Real Estate always goes up? Never down? Really? It still boggles my mind that this is even a question. Gah.)
“Too Big To Fail” does a decent job of casting that concept in it’s proper light: a pale illumination of disdain.
Where HBO’s “Too Big To Fail” falls short is ONLY blaming the bankers.
This is a huge, historical mistake.
TBTF completely dismisses Congress and multiple decades of terrible, terrible decisions on everything from Freddie & Fannie, to the FHA, to the CRA. Instead, the film chooses to serve up the “de-regulation” canard in whispy, vague intro scenes (are housing quotas “regulation” or “de-regulation”?).
What’s more, “TBTF” completely lets consumers (us) off the hook.
In this case it took THREE to tango: 1) The greedy, bankers 2) the maybe-well-intentioned but ultimately bumbling and hurtful bureaucrats who first incentivized, and supported those bankers, and 3) the millions of willing homeowners who were also greedy, and bumbling, and now are whining a lot.
We can argue “chicken-egg-chicken” here, but anyone who knows anything about this mess knows that, although the bankers deserve all the disdain we can muster, the other two major players deserve just as much attention.
But “Too Big To Fail” isn’t about those other 2 legs of the stool. It’s about the bankers, and their interaction w/ Paulson, and the slap-dash series of events that took place in the fall of 2008. So it’s understandable that it didn’t dive deep into, say, specific legislation, or some poor, dumb family caught trying to flip some houses.
If “Too Big To Fail” had stayed on topic, then it would be fine. But they didn’t.
Understandably, though, they did try to explain what was going on.
In one painfully obvious scene (putting the 4th wall in much peril) Paulson and his advisors “talk through” how the shit actually got into the fan.
It’s in this scene where “TBTF” willfully ignores The Government’s role in encouraging the build-up, and at the same time washes away any homeowners’ responsibility with the old “American Dream” chestnut; all in about 20 seconds of screen time. This is a damn shame, because they really didn’t have to say much here to be accurate. But instead they chose to perpetuate the fallacy that it was ALL the fault of the bankers.
(Remember kids: bankers are evil, politicians are just there to help, and we consumers can do no wrong.)
The problem here is that, it’s movies like this, about crises like this, that will actually help shape history. And it’s in this little scene that HBO’s “Too Big To Fail” essentially absolves the other 2 legs of the stool of any blame.
And what’s extra frustrating is “TBTF” came so darn close to being nonpartisan. All they had to do here, in this short little scene, was be ACCURATE.
= Accuracy FAIL.
Instead, they chose pitchforks and populism. And they just might get away with it because the Bankers are, in fact, pretty darn evil.
So, ultimately, “Too Big To Fail” ends up being a love letter to Hank Paulson. Does he deserve it? Maybe so. But along the way they missed a simple, and important opportunity to help educate the public about what really happened. And why.
It’s a near-miss. Which sucks, because it’s not a bad movie. In fact it’s a pretty darn good movie. But as a historical document, HBO’s “Too Big To Fail” will be doomed to repeats.
Yeah. I just wrote that.