Money Monster

'Money Monster' movie poster

Release: Friday, May 13, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Jamie Linden; Alan DiFiore; Jim Kouf

Directed by: Jodie Foster

In Jodie Foster’s latest, good old George is forced to strap explosives to his chest on live television and admit to everyone — everyone in Manhattan anyway — that he, the arrogant host of a colorful, high-octane financial talk show, is nothing but a crook. With a gun also pointed at him and his crew, and the assailant with a finger on the detonator, he has no choice but to play along.

In the interest of solidarity, so must we. That, and it’s just more fun going with the flow rather than trying to figure out solutions to the many questions Money Monster raises.

Clooney plays Lee Gates, the centerpiece of a whacky platform you might equate to real shows like American Greed or Mad Money, the latter to which this owes more with its in-your-face delivery and egomaniacal host. Clooney, one of those last vestiges of bona fide movie stardom, convinces as something slightly more than just a pretty face in front of a camera. His geeky enthusiasm over crunching numbers is actually sort of infectious, though  his sense of superiority and ego stroking could be obnoxious to those who don’t keep their eyes on Wall Street. Either way, job well done.

Behind the scenes, director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) juggles producers, camera crew, schedules and the unwieldy task of making sure Gates actually sticks to the day’s script. Mere seconds into just another broadcast she spots a figure lurking in the background, a man carrying some boxes who soon exposes himself as an armed and emotionally unstable investor named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) who has lost a lot of money thanks to a “glitch” in the system, resulting in the company he has sunk $60k into losing $800 million literally overnight. He demands answers from the ones responsible, and has decided Gates is one such individual. The other is Ibis CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West), who has conveniently gone incommunicado since the event.

What begins as a frightening confrontation turns into a nightmarish battle between protecting the interests of the bureaucracy and a need for total corporate transparency.   Police negotiations break down and other options are proving limited as well, particularly when NYPD brings Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend Molly (Emily Meade) on to the scene, hoping she can talk some sense into him. The plan backfires horrifically as Molly, rather than trying to calm him down, lays into him (again, on live television) with a barrage of insults and increasingly vicious barbs that get more personal by the second, leading to one of the most shocking and shockingly effective moments of the entire picture. It’s not exactly the cutesy, unnecessary detour into tender romance we’ve been trained to anticipate.

Money Monster proves to be quite the entertaining little potboiler. It’s distressing stuff but Foster also manages to find the funny in certain moments. One could argue the tonal disconnect between an act of terrorism and comedy, and yet the injection of some quips and the odd running joke about a producer obsessed with balls turns out to be one of the film’s greatest weapons, moreso than the overly familiar stench of disdain and dissidence as a poorly planned hostage stunt yields a much more complex discussion about class structure and the corruption of the American financial system.

There is a more ambitious film buried somewhere in this ‘leave no stone unturned’ approach to getting to the heart of corruption, but like Adam McKay with his own personal vendetta The Big Short, Foster sets the vacuity of morality and human decency as a dramatic backdrop in this world of high finance and “risk-taking.” Even if Kyle’s embodiment of the brokenness of the American dream isn’t something we’re experiencing for the first time, neither his bleeding heart nor the director’s obvious frustration is easy to ignore.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 12.00.17 AM

Recommendation: Far from the perfect crime movie but Money Monster offers up a lot of food for thought with its combination of terrific acting, pulse-pounding action and a relatively complex but hardly labyrinthian narrative that makes it easy to buy into the plight of its characters, on all sides of the argument. Once you get over the incredibly strange opening act, Money Monster really opens up into something worth investing your time (and money!) in. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “What, is this a union thing?”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com