What to Watch for Tonight in 'Too Big To Fail'

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Director Curtis Hanson adaptation of Too Big To Fail, the bestselling financial crisis chronicle from New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin, premieres on HBO tonight, and if the finished film is half as thorough as the media's advance coverage of the project, audiences will have a new understanding of 2008's near-economic collapse by 11 p.m. this evening. Among the more memorable details of the production that have emerged in recent days

Andrew Ross Sorkin works for scale

The book's author tells Daily Intel's Jessica Pressler he pulled down about "scale...about $800 a day" for his one-line cameo as a reporter at a press conference. (He's the guy whose question begins "Mr. Secretary! Mr. Secretary!...") Other revelations from Ross Sorkin: the filmmakers did a "great job" with the project and avoided doing anything "overly crazy," William Hurt's performance as Henry Paulson is "brilliant," and while filming his cameo he "made some nice friends with some of the cast and some of the crew," including Topher Grace and Cynthia Nixon, who he got to eat lunch with.

William Hurt and Henry Paulson bonded over birding

If Hurt's performance is as strong as Ross Sorkin says, you can credit the actor's extensive preparation process. According to the Washington Post, Hurt and Paulson met multiple times before filming began, with Paulson even inviting Hurt "to vacation with him over three days on a coastal Georgia island." On the trip, writes the Post's Ned Martel, Wendy Paulson led the group "on a 5 a.m. kayak trip, and the actor noted that had he been late, the strong-willed spouse...would have left him behind." The real-life Paulson, meanwhile, "pointed out hawks, egrets and spoonbills, as well as snakes and alligators...[and] caught and released snapper in a creek." (Hurt's a birder too) Later, Paulson "regaled [Hurt] with natural-history insights over dinner in a rustic lodge," while Hurt "kept up his questioning about regulators and profiteers, divining what Paulson learned on the Dartmouth gridiron and in the political arena." Paulson was also the only subject given a draft of the script and invited to submit notes

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Billy Crudup and Paul Giamatti also met their real-life counterparts

Also in the Post article: Crudup, who is playing Timothy Geithner "arranged to spend 20 minutes last fall during a crosstown car ride" with the Treasury Secretary. Paul Giamatti, meanwhile, "went to Washington for a lunch with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke." (He's pictured above in character)

There are at least two embellishments

 Los Angeles Times financial writer Walter Hamilton gives the film a positive assessment, but notes that "like most docu-dramas, it does condense events and conjure dialogue that never took place." For example, he says, Lehman Bros. chief executive Richard Fuld (right) "doesn't appear to have uttered that carilegious 'screw Warren Buffett' remark when the famed investor offered to buy a stake in the company at what the CEO considered a fire-sale price." A scene where Paulson "barks at [2008 GOP presidential nominee John] McCain that if the Arizona senator doesn't back his plans, the next Great Depression will be his fault," also didn't happen, and wasn't in Ross Sorkin's book.

James Woods and Andrew Ross Sorkin don't see any easy answers

Woods, who is playing Fuld, and Ross Sorkin spelled out the movie's takeaway in an interview with Piers Morgan. "Here's the problem with what's happened to our culture," explained Woods. "You're not required to be ethical. As long as you're legal." Sorkin offered a more chilling take: "Who do we blame for not changing the system for the next time, for the next Too Big To Fail," he asked. "That is the administration today. That is a group of people who have not made all of the real decisions that need to be made."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.