George Clooney and Grant Heslov to Produce THE $700 BILLION MAN; Clooney Might Direct

     April 13, 2011


George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s production company Smoke House Pictures is developing a film about the Wall Street bailout, based on the 2009 Washington Post article “The $700 Billion Man.”  Said man is Neel Kashkari, the steward of $700 billion set aside for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008 to bail out failing banks following economic collapse.  The experience wrecked Kashkari.  He resigned after 7 months in Washington, D.C. and moved to a remote cabin in Northern California.

According to Variety, Clooney is considering The $700 Billion Man as a possible directing vehicle.  Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction) will write the script.  Read more about the story after the jump.

The Washington Post article by Laura Blemenfeld picks up when Kashkari is six months into what he refers to as a “Washington detox” program.  His role in the federal bailout is told in retrospect as a brand of war story.  I wonder where Helm will enter the story.  My guess: the movie opens on a fresh-faced Kashkari on his first day on the job.  The drama climaxes with Kashkari, now a destroyed shell of a man, handing in his resignation.  Close with a coda of Neel Kashkari: Mountain Man.  Blumenfeld encapsulates that arc pretty well herself:


It all began as it ended, abruptly. Kashkari was a 35-year-old business school graduate from a suburb of Akron, Ohio, who had gone to Washington in 2006 to learn how government worked. Then came the recession, and through a freakish set of circumstances, mixing pluck, cataclysm and luck, he was appointed by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson as the federal bailout chief.

Suddenly, he was in charge of $700 billion.

Congress savaged him. Wall Street Journal editorials doubted him. His home-town buddies urged him to use the money to buy the Cleveland Browns and fire the coaches. His wife spoke to him so rarely, she described them as “dead to each other.” He lost sleep, gained weight and saw a close adviser, Don Hammond, suffer a heart attack at his Treasury desk. On May 1, after serving seven months under Presidents Bush and Obama, he resigned.

My favorite excerpt from the article is this quote from Kashkari:

“Seven hundred billion was a number out of the air. It was a political calculus. I said, ‘We don’t know how much is enough. We need as much as we can get [from Congress]. What about a trillion?’ ‘No way,’ Hank shook his head. I said, ‘Okay, what about 700 billion?’ We didn’t know if it would work. We had to project confidence, hold up the world. We couldn’t admit how scared we were, or how uncertain.”

I know “It was a political calculus” lacks the marketable punch to be a tagline, but that hypothetical poster would go straight up on my wall and never come down.

Clooney is currently directing Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymor Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, and himself in the political drama The Ides of March, scheduled for release October 14.  As an actor with no hyphen, Clooney has Alexander Payne’s The Descendants in the can and set for December 16.  Next, Clooney will reunite with Stephen Soderbergh for an adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and film a small but crucial role in the Alfonso Cuarón space thriller Gravity.


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