Monday, June 06, 2011

Too Big to Fail

Those of you who subscribe to HBO will have undoubtedly seen "Too Big to Fail" by now if you ever channel surf like I do. I watched it last week on the main HBO -- not HBO2, HBO3, HBO Comedy, HBO Thriller, or HBO Financial Meltdown Documentaries. The movie was done with most of the style and flair that HBO has become so well known for by now over the years -- excellent writing, good character development, a very strong cast, and of course the best pre-written plot money could buy -- and the end result was really quite an enjoyable watch for me. I ended up staying up past midnight watching -- kind of shades from back in the day when I used to be permitted to stay up all night playing online no-limit holdem mtt's -- and believe me, nowadays for me to be up past midnight is almost unheard-of, post April 15.

But the thing that struck me the most about my watching of Too Big to Fail last night is how much it still moves me. It's going on roughly three years since I left Lehman Brothers out of fear for the company's future and for my job, and yet I still could not peel my eyes away from the tv screen. As I sat and watched a pretty true to life portrayal of brash former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld by James Woods, John Heard's Joe Gregory and even a small portrayal of Lehman CFO Erin Callahan, the emotions of it all just came pouring back. They really did. The hatred I felt for Fuld there at the end. The despair showing in his eyes as he begged first his competitor investment banks, then other larger commercial banks, and eventually even the Japanese and the Koreans for a lifeline to keep his company afloat, and especially the anger and disappointment while Fuld watched Paulson, Bernanke and co. bail out AIG for over $150 billion just days later. Watching Woods' portrayal of Fuld screw up the investment deals that would have saved the company at the last minute as is commonly told really happened by those on the inside back in 2008 just makes my jaw drop, true today just as much as it was three years ago. It really was an amazing, incredible time in this country's history, and in a lot of ways -- strange as this is to say -- it was almost a privilege in some ways for me to be able to be a direct part of it as much as I was.

The other thing that I think a lot of people will take away from Too Big to Fail is the portrayal of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in the movie. While I think most of us will always think of a bulldog, ramming idea after idea down the throat of Congress and the American people, and the guy who presented the bill for a $750 billion bailout of Wall Street without any controls whatsoever on how Paulson could dole the money out, to whom and for what purposes, this film portrays a different side to the man who spearheaded the movement to avoid the second Great Depression in the United States. While Too Big to Fail seems to me to paint a picture of Tim Geithner as a desperate, gym-addicted, almost whimsical inputter into the country's handling of the financial crisis, the movie tells the story of a hopeful, incredibly solid, formal and almost compassionate Hank Paulson, worrying almost singularly about how to protect the country and solve the worst financial crisis in several generations. While Paulson always seemed calculated and cold-hearted to me in real life while the whole mess was hitting the fan a few years back-- perhaps that is my green Lehman blood still flowing -- HBO portrays him as a deeply concerned and caring man, literally unable to sleep at night due to the constant worry about how to fix things for his country. One of the most moving scenes of the film to me is almost a throwaway, when Tim Geithner calls after another session at the gym and tells Paulson that the financial bailout bill looks like it's not going to pass Congress, and Paulson gets this look on his face like he is literally sick, puts the phone down, and then runs into the bathroom and retches. That's just not the image I ever had of the former head of Goldman Sachs, and I think the distinction between what most of us likely think of Paulson and what the makers of Too Big to Fail obviously want you to think may be one of the highlights as well for any of you out there who choose to watch.

Yeah, it's been well over two and a half years since the events of September 2008 changed Wall Street, and America, overall forever, but to me for very personal reasons the events still feel like they were just yesterday. Watching Too Big to Fail on HBO this past week was like a blast from the past, and even though reliving much of what I lived through that year is not exactly what I would call enjoyable in the strict sense, I have to say that, with a little bit of time under the bridge at this point, I thoroughly enjoyed HBO's take on things. If you find yourself with a couple of hours to kill and you are anyone with an interest in such things, I bet you'll be glad you took the time to watch.

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Blogger Journey for Lily said...

Jimmy Woods won the bad beat jackpot at Foxwoods last weekend. The jackpot was over $200M.
It's a small world!

8:38 PM  

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