‘Too Big to Fail’: HBO film too short to be coherent

Last spring’s made-for-HBO movie “Too Big to Fail” — based on New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book of the same title — races so quickly through the events of the financial collapse of 2008 that there is virtually no way for it to land as drama.

(HBO Video is making “Too Big to Fail” available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital copy next week.)

Only 98 minutes long, the film crams so many real-life characters into its narrative that the first scenes are a mess of title cards telling us the names of the drab-looking government officials and Wall Street sharks who are taking up space in board rooms in New York and national monuments in Washington, D.C.

Even if these folks were given more screen time, it’s doubtful that we would care too much about them in a serious film because Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox and the Wall Street players were the dopes who removed all of the brakes from the runaway train that is the American economy.

Only satirical geniuses like filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (in his “Dr. Strangelove” mode) or novelist Richard Condon (in his Reagan-bashing period) could have brought these soulless rich people to life — but they would, of course, view the material as black comedy.

Complex financial matters are hard enough to get across in documentaries and other non-fiction TV formats — that’s one of the reasons why America slept in the lead-up to the disasters of 2008 — but to try to cram reams of data into a dramatic film that runs only a little over 90 minutes is a hopeless task.

“Too Big to Fail” is packed with good actors, including William Hurt, James Woods and Paul Giamatti, but the men they play come across as clueless ciphers who were not smart enough to understand the world in which they were operating.

Joe Meyers