Whenever Warren Buffett’s name is mentioned, there’s a certain mystique attached. It’s not simply because he’s wealthy — his net worth is estimated to be around 60 billion dollars — but because of his idiosyncrasies. Buffett has come to be defined by his eccentric personality, but, unfortunately, HBO’s new documentary about the financial magnate, “Becoming Warren Buffet,” fails to offer more than a cursory perspective into the most intriguing aspects of the investor’s life.
Directed by documentary vets Peter Kunhardt (“Nixon by Nixon: In His Own Words”) and Brian Oakes (“Jim: The James Foley Story”), the biopic sees Buffet chronicling his rise in his own words. The documentary includes interviews with many of Buffett’s colleagues, family members and friends. This is easily the strongest aspect of “Becoming Warren Buffett,” with Buffett’s longtime co-worker Charlie Munger offering particularly insightful anecdotes about the billionaire. Outside these interviews, the documentary features extensive footage of Buffett’s daily life, depicting his morning routine of a three-dollar McDonald’s breakfast sandwich and five-minute drive to the offices of the financial conglomerate he took over in 1970, Berkshire Hathaway.
Due to Buffet’s intimate connection with Berkshire Hathaway, “Becoming Warren Buffett” devotes much of its time to the firm’s history. The documentary outlines the winding road the company has taken since its founding in 1839 to its present ownership stakes in Coca-Cola, Kraft and American Express, which have netted the company billions of dollars annually. While these scenes of the company’s history don’t make for the most exciting television, the documentary does well at explaining Buffet’s decisions in a clear, succinct way that makes the firm’s range of dealings understandable to less financially savvy viewers.
It’s unfortunate, however, that the documentary is so keen on focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. Learning about the financial behemoth is interesting, but for a Warren Buffett documentary to succeed it must focus on the real star of the show: Buffett, in all his eccentric glory. Although “Becoming Warren Buffett” does portray a few of Buffett’s quirks, like his fondness for Coca-Cola, it spends far too little time on them, instead focusing on the trite, battle-tested, “rags-to-riches” story arc. That’s not to suggest that Buffett’s rise isn’t fascinating, but it represents a massive missed opportunity for the documentary to dive into what makes the proclaimed “Sage of Omaha” tick. Even more disappointing is that when the documentary does provide these glimpses of Buffet’s character — like when he chooses to buy a 22 cent cheaper meal simply because the stock market is down that day — the biopic is enthralling, and Buffett’s character begins to shine through the screen.
At times, “Becoming Warren Buffett” feels rushed and it’s apparent the filmmakers struggled to fit all of Buffett’s story into a 90-minute documentary. The result is a product without strong focus; one that is content to show Buffett’s life without going beyond surface level analysis. For example, the documentary emphasizes Buffett’s hatred of Wall Street and his moral opposition to predatory banks, yet does not seek his thoughts on the 2008 financial crisis, which saw millions of Americans lose their homes due to cutthroat banks taking advantage of them. Confining Buffett to this sort of vacuum prevents viewers from gaining a clearer perspective into his character, and this, too, feels like a missed opportunity for the documentary to separate itself from other stories about Buffett’s life.
Overall, while “Becoming Warren Buffett” offers an intriguing view into the billionaire’s life, it feels like a half-baked documentary. The biopic fails to delve farther. It likely could have benefited from a move to a full two-hour piece. In its current format, however, the documentary fails to take advantage of its unique subject — the Sage of Omaha deserved more than this.