Thursday, May 26, 2011

HBO's "Too Big to Fail" - fails

Paul Giamatti as Ben Bernanke
"The Ben Bernank"
Some of you will smile when I refer to "The Ben Bernank." It's a bit of an inside joke that I won't bother explaining here, but if you have seen some of my previous postings featuring Mr. Tugwit's cartoon bears you will understand.
Anyway Paul Giamatti (left) plays Ben Bernanke (right) in HBO's  rendition of "Too Big to Fail" based on Andrew Ross Sorkin's best seller of the same name. I did not read the book, so I don't know how the movie compares, but Giamatti's role in the movie is not huge. He just seems to be there at critical moments in the movie to move the plot along, and save the world from something worse (as he says) than the Great Depression. Apparently Bernanke is an expert on the causes of the Great Depression so it was opportune for him to be in office pulling the "right strings" during the economic turmoil that occurred during 2008. (that is what we are told)
The movie illustrates the very fuzzy separation between the government players and the private bankers. So of course the underlying question throughout the movie is how closely the events depicted in the movie match with reality? I suspect it is close, but of course only the real players know for sure. The relationship between governments (not just American) and the banks should be enough to make everyone watching cringe, though I doubt they will.
A few things about the movie are clear, mainly that its complicated. The actors do a good job of pretending to understand what's going on, at least it looks like it. Maybe that is just the good screenplay writing (Peter Gould and Sorkin). There is a point in the movie about an hour in, when one of the characters explains what is going on indirectly, and believe me this movie needs explaining. I'm not saying it was badly done, quite the contrary, I thought they did an admirable job (though my wife thought it was boring).
The biggest problem with the movie (for me) has nothing to do with the acting, directing, casting or anything to do with its production. The movie comes to a resolution when the American government effectively nationalizes AIG and the Congress finally passes the TARP bill giving money to banks that didn't even need it. When this happens you almost expect to see the Henry Paulson (William Hurt) character and Bernanke slapping their hands together in satisfaction - job well done. The cavalry came to the rescue and everything has been fixed! That is the problem with the movie. It perpetuates the lie that an unimaginably complex creature like "the economy" can be fully understood and manipulated by a few people in a back room. It hasn't even been three years since the mess appeared, but the impression the movie leaves is things are back to normal. The Market is behaving like things are good, and all has been appropriately controlled. But if it is true, as I suspect it is, this economic repair is like the bubble gum in the cracked dam. We are not done yet.

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