Written By Dylan Brandsema
At some point in our lives, we’ve all watched the news. Whether it be at home, in a subway station, or in the dentist waiting room. We’ve all seen the broadcasts of news anchors and ground correspondents struggling to find ways to fill air time in the middle of a breaking story. The new real-time thriller from director Jodie Foster, Money Monster, plays out like one of those broadcasts.
The films stars George Clooney as Lee Gates, a Jim Cramer-type TV personality, and the host of the hit financial show “Money Monster.” The show keeps the American people up to speed as to the goings on in the world of finance – stocks, the Dow Jones, and everything else in between. What begins as a normal day for the program is turned into a live hostage situation when the studio is held captive by Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell). Budwell is an angry viewer in search of answers, who after a bad tip from Gates, lost all of his money in bad stock investment.
Money Monster is a film that relies solely on dialogue and chemistry between actors. The screenplay by Alan Di Foire, Jim Kouf, and Jamie Linden isn’t as good as it could or should be. Luckily, the performances are strong enough to guide the film upwards through what is otherwise a rocky narrative. The film is largely a three-hander, with Clooney and O’Connell doing excellent work as captive and captor, and Julia Roberts being the voice of reason in the situation as the show’s director, Patty Fenn. Roberts and Clooney, in particular, have interesting chemistry – aside from a few moments in the beginning and the end of the film – they’re almost never on screen together. They communicate only via earpiece and headset as Patty guides Lee expertly through a dangerous situation that, if taken in the wrong direction, could result in the deaths of themselves and many others — all of which would be broadcast live on television. We get the feeling, as the film goes on, that Patty and Lee have known each other a long time. They go back and forth as old friends would, and during the film’s more intense moments, their clashing personalities give us just the right amount of insight into their characters that we begin to feel as if we should start picking sides.
Jodie Foster is clearly an actor’s director, and understandably so. An actress herself for over 40 years, it’s not hard to recognize the seemingly effortlessness direction given to bring these pitch-perfect performances out of her cast. Unfortunately, what Foster is unable to do is balance the story’s multi-threaded narrative. While most of the action takes place inside the “Money Monster” studio, the film often takes us outside to show us both the inner workings of Wall Street, and the efforts of the NYPD (lead by Giancarlo Esposito) as they stealthily work their way into the studio. The problem with this formula isn’t an automatic one. In fact, these glimpses outside the primary situation are inherent to plot and deserve to be there. The issue lies in the frequency – the film relies too heavily on showing us the outside investigation, often cutting back and forth not only too often, but at the wrong moments. More than once, scenes that should be brooding with suspense and tension are interrupted by what feels like another obligatory perspective shift that exists solely for expository purposes.
That isn’t to say there isn’t any suspense at all, however. The film’s third act, which takes our characters outside of the studio and into the streets of New York, brings the focus back to more of a singular perspective as the pieces of the plot’s puzzle start coming together. The film’s tail end is genuinely thrilling, and truthfully, quite suspenseful. It’s an earned climax that redeems the rest of the film’s rocky missteps, and brings it all together as a flawed, but altogether successful thriller.
The biggest problem with Money Monster, though, is what lies underneath the surface – or in this case, what tries to. When the twist is revealed – that the $800 million dollar stock loss was in fact not a system glitch, but stolen clean by the stock owner Walt Camby (Dominic West), the film’s unavoidable political message transforms what is otherwise a mostly competent character-driven thriller into a trite, exhausted political commentary that would have been more effective had the film been released in the earlier part of the 20th century. In case you haven’t pick up on it yet, that message is, of course, that the big banks are evil, the 1% will always have the ability to crush and take advantage of the middle class, and that even those who think they know what they’re talking about when it comes to finance still might be wrong. Jodie Foster has insisted in several interviews that the film is not meant to be political, and that the timely release of the film – in the middle of what is possibly the United States’ most batshit crazy election ever – is merely coincidence. With all due respect to Foster, I find it impossible to believe that this film was written and produced without any intention whatsoever of making a political statement. As the film’s director, it is possible that Foster’s intent was only to make a self-contained thriller, but obviously the screenplay has bigger ambitions.
The issue with the film’s message isn’t that it’s wrong or misguided, but that’s it’s overdone. Anybody who owns a computer, television or smartphone (so, basically everyone) knows that Wall Street is built on corruption. If this had come out 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been a revelation, but riding on the heels of films like Inside Job, The Wolf of Wall Street, and of course more recently, Adam McKay’s wonderfully crafted cinematic epiphany The Big Short, Money Monster is preaching a choir whose song has already been song.
The staleness of the film’s pseudo-political overtones is made interesting even more so by the fact that the film’s star, George Clooney, who has an estimated net worth of $180 million, recently held a fundraiser for Wall Street’s best friend, Hillary Clinton, at which the ticket price was $33,400 per person, with an additional $353,000 price tag for those who wished to co-sponsor the event. When asked by NBC to comment on this, Clooney said, “Yes. I think it’s an obscene amount of money”.
So much for helping to expose the 1%, huh?
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10
Dylan Brandsema is a staff writer for Pop-Break specializing in film and television. When he isn’t writing reviews or spending too much analyzing the medium, he’s writing and directing his own independent films as well as drinking way too much soda. Currently at full-time film major at Full Sail University, Dylan eats, sleeps, and breathes everything related to the cinema. You can follow him on Twitter @SneakyOstrich69.