The reviews are in for Too Big To Fail, the star-studded, cannily-promoted adaptation of Andrew Ross Sorkin's financial crisis guidebook that debuted on HBO last night. Here's what people are saying about the performances, the real-life historical figures on display, and, perhaps most importantly, whether the jargon-heavy film passed the "Will people know what this means test?" So far, opinion seems to be mixed.
Overstuffed "[T]he filmmakers have tried to touch all the important bases," writes Los Angeles Times television critic Robert Lloyd, "and there are possibly six lines in the film that do not prompt one to ask, "Will this be on the test?" (There is one about doughnuts, one about oatmeal, one about a hawk, one about a frog, one about Christian Science and one about Al Capone's gun; they are supposed to add a dash of naturalism, and they stick out a mile.)" Lloyd continues: "Because they have a lot to tell you, movies like Too Big to Fail inevitably have something of the shorthand quality of a Presidents Day pageant: 'Who has chopped down my cherry tree?' 'It was I, with my little hatchet.' 'God bless you, Mr. President!'"
Nightmarish "'This is the nightmare scenario,' someone says of the threat of economic collapse, and the movie itself is as messy as a nightmare itself," argues Slate's Troy Patterson. "All the strong moments of Mamet-esque leveraging add up only to something surreal and formless. The fact that Paulson's undersecretaries (played by the likes of Topher Grace and Cynthia Nixon) function as a kind of narrative chorus explaining the credit market and such isn't a great help, nor is the overdone score, which is all the more conspicuous for being intensely generic." (Patterson also notes that as Lehman Bros. executive Dick Fuld, James Woods is at "his most soaringly assholic, no mean feat for a guy who's played H.R. Haldeman, Rudy Giuliani, and a peregrine falcon in Stuart Little 2.)
Villain-free "Beside from a slightly irritable John Thain from Merrill Lynch (played by Matthew Modine) and an understandably cranky Dick Fuld (played by James Woods), there aren't any villains in the mix," observes Roya Wolverson at Time. "The bankers are at worst self-satisfied, while the government falls somewhere between pitifully overwhelmed and plainly naive. The result is a story without much added grit, which leaves a slew of deeper questions laid to waste." Among these unanswered questions, according to Wolverson: "What's wrong with a tight circle of people flowing between banks and government? And why has the Fed been so absent in regulating banks? For Ross Sorkin, who has been criticized for his cozy relationship to sources, these questions may already seem answered, or perhaps not worth the time. But the American public still feels in the dark."
The hero in public office "Damned if Fail doesn't whittle down the whole sorry story into a mostly understandable and efficient movie that everybody should watch," marvels the Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman. "And in a cast full of beautifully minimalist performances from superb actors, William Hurt gets to remind viewers who might have otherwise forgot just how great he can be." More than anything, Hurt's performance should give all audiences a renewed appreciation of the public sector. " You may not like or agree with Paulson," concedes Goodman, "but Hurt shows you how, in public service, the burden on keeping the country afloat took its toll."
Eat your broccoli "Overall," says HitFix's Alan Sepinwall, "Too Big to Fail the movie, like Too Big to Fail the book, takes a topic that could have felt like homework and turns it into effective entertainment - even if that entertainment might teach you something along the way."