Directed by: Jodie Foster.
Written by: Jamie Linden and Alan DiFiore & Jim Kouf.
Starring: George Clooney (Lee Gates), Julia Roberts (Patty Fenn), Jack O'Connell (Kyle Budwell), Dominic West (Walt Camby), Caitriona Balfe (Diane Lester), Giancarlo Esposito (Captain Powell), Christopher Denham (Ron Sprecher), Lenny Venito (Lenny - The Cameraman), Chris Bauer (Lt. Nelson), Dennis Boutsikaris (Avery Goodloe CFO), Emily Meade (Molly), Condola Rashad (Bree - The Assistant).
Watching Money Monster is kind of like being trapped in a room with an angry Bernie Sanders supporter for 97 minutes – you may be sympathetic to what they have to say, agree with much of it even, but the experience is still shrill and disagreeable. The people involved with making Money Monster are all talented – George Clooney and Julia Roberts are effortlessly charming and likable, and have good chemistry together, and young Jack O’Connell once again shows why he is a star in the making – even if he’s saddled with an impossible role. Jodie Foster has proven herself to be a fine director – sure more for her TV work than film, but her direction here is fine. The main problem is the screenplay which seems to be wanting to say a whole hell of a lot – combining elements of classics like Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Wall Street – but not really having anything of interest to add to the conversations. Worse, it tries to wrap up everything in a neat little bow at the end – and put everything right in a world where we know it wouldn’t happen.
The story is about Lee Gates (Clooney) – a Jim Cramer-like host of a stock trading TV show called Money Monster. Because shows like Cramer’s Mad Money are already so over-the-top, the show in the movie that takes its name, has to go even further – and as Clooney dances around in gold top hats, with giant a giant money necklace, hitting buttons that deliver sound effects even the hackiest morning DJ would reject, you know the movie is in trouble before it even really gets going. Lee’s director is Patty (Roberts) – who likes him, but is tired of the shenanigans, so of course she’s just taken a job “across the street” – and will be leaving soon. That’s all before Kyle (O’Connell) comes storming into the studio – where the show is going out live – with a gun and takes Lee hostage. He makes him strap a bomb vest on, and tells Lee that he’s holding a dead man’s switch – essentially, if Kyle dies, the bomb goes off and everyone else dies as well. Kyle wants answers – the company that Lee had touted as being “safer than a savings account” had just tanked – losing $800 million in an afternoon. They’re trying to blame it all on a glitch in one of their high frequency trading algorithms – but are fuzzy on the details. The CEO of the company – Walt Camby (Dominic West) was supposed to be in studio for an interview – but at the last minute, he cancels – and is now on a plane somewhere, apparently unreachable. But Kyle – who lost his life savings in the crash – isn’t going anywhere until he gets answers. And wouldn’t you know it, Lee and his team – who have long ago given up doing any sort of actual journalism – start digging, and start finding that something isn’t right.
Clooney is an actor who is so effortlessly charming, that you don’t really realize that he’s all wrong for the role of Lee Gates. He’s one of those actors who exudes charm and intelligence, and he doesn’t look right in those early scenes when Lee is prancing around TV like a clown. Lee is a character who is supposed to find his moral compass again, after having lost it for years to make a quick buck – and while Clooney is very good after that conversion, the conversion comes way too fast, and everything before it seems rushed. Clooney is endlessly watchable in the film – but the role needed an actor better able of being slimy and amoral at the beginning of the film, to have that conversion mean anything. Roberts fares better, if only because her role isn’t nearly as complex – she’s someone who has tired of churning out the crap being asked of her on a daily basis – who immediately switches into high gear when she gets a chance to do real work again. With this, and Secret in Their Eyes last year, Roberts has actually done two very good performances in a row, in movies that are both quite bad. O’Connell’s role as Kyle – the crazed gunman, who’s crazy conspiracy may actually be true, has an impossible role to play. Why does he do what he does? What is his ultimate plan? Even if he gets what he wants, so what? As we get more information about him later on, his actions make even less sense. Still, O’Connell is a talented actor, and he does what he can with the role – which is a hell of a lot more than it deserves.
Money Monster is trying very hard to be a satire – it starts at over-the-top, and just keeps going. One of the good things about the movie is its frantic pace – this movie moves along at such a brisk clip, that you may not find you have much time to think about how little the film is actually saying. We’ve seen hostage movies before, we’ve seen media satires before, we’ve seen stories of Wall Street greed before – the movie somehow manages to combine all three, and yet not have anything of interest to say about any of them. Even as the reality behind the financial shenanigans comes out, it’s far more elaborate and unrealistic that the everyday greed we see on Wall Street – something that The Big Short did an excellent job of showing just a few months ago. No one would think of a scheme this complex to make money – simply because they don’t have to. News has become entertainment, with no one really asking questions anymore? Network got there 40 years ago – hell A Face in the Crowd got there 60 years ago – if you don’t have much else to say other than that, why bother?
There is a lot of talent on screen in Money Monster – and behind the scenes as well. I’ll say this for the movie – it’s a watchable bad movie, not painful in any real way, because Clooney and Roberts are so charming, O’Connell sympathetic, and Foster’s direction keeps things moving. The movie practically yells in your face for 97 minutes, but it doesn’t have anything to say.