Money Monster focuses on one particularly tense day on the set of the eponymous financial advice show. In the wake of Ibis, a large financial company, losing $800 million dollars of investors’ money, Money Monster host Lee Gates (George Clooney) is in the midst of covering the fallout and trying to get CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) on for an interview when a particularly angry investor, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) sneaks onto the set and takes Gates and the crew hostage. While Gates is held up at gunpoint and strapped into a vest loaded with explosives, his director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts); producer, Ron Sprecher (Christopher Denham); and crew, including cameraman Lenny Venito (Lenny Venito) try to get some answers to Kyle’s questions from the Chief Communications Officer, Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe). Saving Gates and themselves demands tracking down the truth about where Camby has been and connecting with data scientists and hackers around the world to find the truth quickly.
At its best, Money Monster subverts expectations of its genre. Several times during the story, the characters make appeals to others’ emotions in an attempt to get Kyle to stand down. Instead of the ploy working, as one would expect in an action comedy, the results are often more jaded and something approximating realistic. This dynamic keeps the suspense going and prevents the narrative from indulging in sentimentality that would be out of stride with the plot and the critique the film is trying to make. My favorite such example comes when Gates tries to get those watching his hostage situation live on TV to buy Ibis’s stock, bringing the price back up and getting Kyle and other investors’ their money back. “What is the value of my life?” he asks only to see the price of the stock drop, rather than climb.
Despite the movie’s engaging play with action genre conventions, the critique the film makes of the abuses of big corporations, the media, and Wall Street feel both a bit too trendy and yet not timely enough. The Big Short already took on such issues so successfully, the fun but not incisive take Money Monster takes on Wall Street is comparatively lightweight. The movie’s depiction of the media, however, had more potential but is ultimately undercut by positioning Gates as the protagonist. As much as I respect the critique of the media’s lack of accountability for their financial advice and coverage, that aspect of the story ultimately serves the comedy more than the drama.
In that vein, the visual style of the movie does a good job of lampooning the over-produced, sleek look of cable news while still using that production style to package the narrative. At one point, Patty asks the cameraman to move in on Kyle, because there’s a shadow on his face. In that moment, she makes it clear that even while sitting eighty feet from a bomb, she’s still directing a live television event. As much as we root for Patty, she also sets the stage for the film’s pessimistic take on media production and consumption.
The film does not demand many great acting moments, aside from the intense performance given by Jack O’Connell. George Clooney is a shoe-in for the role of an overly-confident financial journalist and his long friendship with Julia Roberts comes through in the banter between their characters. The chemistry of the cast, both in the tight bond of the Money Monster crew and in the adversarial relationships between them and the heads of Ibis carry the plot without offering any clear standouts. As an important bonus, the film also passes the Bechdel test as Roberts’ and Balfe’s characters set about answering big questions together.
Money Monster is not as smart or as tough as I think it tried to be, but it still was a fun, suspenseful movie that both made me laugh and kept me on the edge of my seat. I rate it 4/5 stars.
Money Monster was directed by Jodie Foster and written by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf. It runs 98 minutes and is rated R for language, some sexuality, and brief violence.
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