Too Big to Fail

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Too Big to Fail Movie Poster Image
Complex account of 2008 economic collapse; lots of language.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 98 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The depiction of the government and Wall Street's attempt to stave off the collapse of the U.S. economy is informative and supports the idea that knowing more about history and government is a good thing, but the decisions that government and business made during these critical times seem to serve the wealthy and powerful more than the average person.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Actors play real-life people who wield a lot of control over the U.S. government and financial institutions. Some of these men (and they are all men) are trying their best to keep the country functioning, while others are trying to cover up mistakes and errors that were sometimes a function of greed or ambivalence toward the common man.


Frequent use of "f--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters are shown smoking outside of a building. An adult character sits alone drinking from a bottle of alcohol while watching the news.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Too Big to Fail is a riveting play-by-play of the economic meltdown of 2008 and the collusion between Wall Street and the United States Department of Treasury. There's frequent use of "f--k," and the discussions about what caused the collapse will probably be too complex and boring for younger viewers, but for older kids and families interested in contemporary history -- or for families who experienced economic hardship as a direct result of the myopic greed of the financial sector -- Too Big to Fail is an informative and entertaining account of how the stock market crash and subsequent government bailouts transpired.

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What's the story?

TOO BIG TO FAIL explores the collusion between the United States government and Wall Street in 2008, as investment banks begin to go belly-up and the stock market goes into a freefall. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson (William Hurt) and Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke (Paul Giamatti) work with both government officials and the presidents of large banks to try and stave off a complete economic collapse; as they do this, Paulson and his assistants struggle to find the proper role of government during unprecedented economic circumstances that are also happening during an election year. Throughout, the ramifications of what it means for large financial institutions to be "too big to fail" are fully explored.

Is it any good?

As a film based on complex true events, TOO BIG TO FAIL presents a thrilling "behind closed doors" narrative of the 2008 economic collapse. It details how major financial players -- from Hank Paulson to Warren Buffett, Tim Geithner to Jamie Dimon, among many others -- responded to the myriad crises that led to the near-economic collapse and bank bailouts of 2008. The all-star cast turns in compelling performances, and the "fly on the wall" nature of each tense scene allows the audience to truly feel the tremendous stress and gravity of the decisions being made and how they affect pretty much everyone on the planet.

What prevents Too Big to Fail from being the absolute definitive account of what went wrong in 2008 (for that, check the documentary Inside Job) lies in the difficulty of breaking down the complexities of the collapse and its ramifications for "Main Street" in language that most people can understand. A crash course explanation is attempted during one of the meetings in Paulson's office, and Paulson tries to explain what a total collapse of Wall Street would mean in ordinary terms (frozen credit lines = no milk in the store), but in the chaos of the story unfolding, there simply isn't enough time to get to the simplified specifics of the "whys" of the thing. Nonetheless, as an account of the interplay between Wall Street and government and how their decisions effect us all, Too Big to Fail is as impressive as it is engrossing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the challenges in making a film like Too Big to Fail. While based on a book, what would be the difficulties in bringing true events and characters to life? How would the writers get their information on how events transpired behind closed doors?

  • How did the decisions made in the boardrooms of Wall Street and the offices of the Secretary of Treasury have direct repercussions on your family or those in your community?

  • Does the film do a good job in explaining the specifics of how the financial collapse of 2008 happened? Why or why not?

Movie details

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