Monday, December 22, 2014

Too Big To Fail

I finally got around to watching the movie version of Andrew Ross Sorkin's "Too Big To Fail" about the 2008 financial meltdown. Part of my ongoing reference search for my play DARK MARKET.

The movie pretty much aligns with what I understood about the meltdown, but it had some details that I hadn't known about - and I actually thought they might have been placed into the movie for dramatic effect. I'm a little wary of Sorkin after he done Krugman wrong. But after Googling, discovered they were not:

Hank Paulson pukes from the stress as recounted in Vanity Fair:
And with that Paulson ducked into the private bathroom adjoining his office, closed the big paneled door, and audibly, violently, and repeatedly threw up. He emerged a moment later as if nothing had happened, but in a few minutes he did the same thing all over again. I asked if he wouldn’t rather stop, and resume our conversation another time. “That’s O.K.,” he said. “I’m just going to go through this all. I won’t remember it. You know, I barely remember the details now.”
And Hank Paulson literally knelt before Nancy Pelosi:
“I didn’t know I was going to be the referee for an internal G.O.P. ideological civil war,” Mr. Frank said, according to The A.P.Thursday, in the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal. 
“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.” 
Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.” 
It was the very outcome the White House had said it intended to avoid, with partisan presidential politics appearing to trample what had been exceedingly delicate Congressional negotiations.
Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate banking committee, denounced the session as “a rescue plan for John McCain,” and proclaimed it a waste of precious hours that could have been spent negotiating.
 
But a top aide to Mr. Boehner said it was Democrats who had done the political posturing. The aide, Kevin Smith, said Republicans revolted, in part, because they were chafing at what they saw as an attempt by Democrats to jam through an agreement on the bailout early Thursday and deny Mr. McCain an opportunity to participate in the agreement.
I remembered what a dumbass move it was for McCain to show up and try to get into the middle of the tense Senate negotiations in order to try to score points for his failing presidential campaign, but this movie makes him out to be an even bigger asshole than I remembered. That was pretty enjoyable.

And the filmmakers clearly love Warren Buffet - they not only cast Edward Asner, everybody's favorite lefty uncle, to play him, but they portrayed him at one point in an ice cream parlor with his grand-daughters, taking a call begging for his help.

I enjoyed other aspects of the casting too - I'm a big fan of Tony Shaloub, who played John Mack of Morgan Stanley, and Dan Hedeya was unrecognizable as Barney Frank - last time I remember seeing him was as the creepy ex-husband of Carla Tortelli on "Cheers." I also did not recognize William Hurt, who played Paulson. He looks more like Paulson than my memory of what William Hurt looked like. And Paul Giamatti looks much more like Ben Bernanke than I would have expected.

I also enjoyed the part of the movie when Paulson was on the phone with Christine Lagarde, then the French Ministry of Economic Affairs, Finance and Employment, and just as Lagarde did in real life in the documentary "Inside Job" the actor portraying Lagarde pronounced is name "honk." It's the little things.

A good deal of the movie takes place in September 2008, and I checked this blog's archives to see if I was talking about it - and I was:
I worked in the investment bank's Compliance department - the department that was charged with making sure that the bank's securities holdings met regulations all over the world. And as I watched the computer programmers wrestle with ways to track the securities holdings, to see if they were in compliance with the regulations I realized that when it came to exotics - they really could not. Because basically an exotic could be virtually anything the investment bank wanted it to be.
It still blows my mind - I had come to this realization about the massive amount of unregulated trading going on a few months before the shit started to hit the fan in March 2008. I was shocked by the idea that a stock market which I thought was well-regulated was in fact the wild west.

Luckily I was reading Krugman's blog religiously even back then, to get some insight into what was going on. And I did email one of his columns to Jamie Dimon in March 2008. I never got a response though.

I also recently saw "Margin Call" which was pretty good, although not as entertaining as "Too Big." It also has a cast of big deal actors like Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore. And in both of these movies - and probably every other movie on the subject, there comes a time when a character is asked to explain what all this trading stuff is all about, "in English." I thought the bit in Too Big was pretty good:

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