Rating in Stars: *** (out of ****)
Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito
Director: Jodie Foster
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence)
Running Time: 1:38
Release Date: 05/13/16
Money Monster wishes to place the financial crisis of 2008 into the spotlight and subsequent microscope of a hostage situation with an audience. That decision is a surprisingly effective one on the parts of screenwriters Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf because the apparent madman with a gun is actually a person with whom the real audience (the ones watching the film in a theater) and the fake one (those witnessing it as it unfolds over an eventful afternoon onscreen) can empathize. The victims of the situation, then, are the sleazy, conniving people against whom, it is easy to believe, those audiences would definitely side. The least effective stretch of the film, then, is during and after the process by which those roles are reversed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The wielder of the gun (and a bomb) is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell, whose solid performance outshines the two movie stars with whom he shares the screen), who forcibly overtakes “Money Monster,” a financial news program hosted by the arrogant and charismatic Lee Gates (George Clooney), in order to find out why I.B.I.S., a program that handles the people’s finances, lost more than three-quarters of a billion dollars overnight. He himself had a pretty penny invested in the company on Lee’s own, problematic advice on-air a couple of weeks previously, so as Kyle demands that Lee, the various crew onset and in the control room, and show-runner Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) remain where they are and live on the air, investigations are launched into the “glitch” that lost I.B.I.S. CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) a considerable fortune.
There are three modes in which the film operates here. The first is as a comedy, though not as the satire it has been labeled in the days leading to its release. There are satirical elements, such as the argument regarding censorship when Kyle begins to utter a string of four-letter profanities and variations on them in front of and at the cameras. It’s more of a comedy of human nature featuring wealthy, sarcastic people in their element, stubborn, wealthier people refusing to bend, and the employees of the news station, one of whom, it is heavily implied, might be standing at attention for the entire duration of the events. It’s funny stuff until it isn’t, and that kind of control of tone is crucial.
The second mode is the foremost one, and that is as an indictment of corporate culture without much in the way of exposition, although there is a fair amount of explanation regarding the “glitch,” which of course turns out to be something else entirely of the corrupt variety. The CCO for I.B.I.S., Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe, who wins every award for Awesomest Name), is at first merely a parrot for the company lines involving a “mistake” and a weak explanation without any answers or solutions. There is a bit of information involving Kyle’s character kept close to the chest that kind of comes off as cheating, and the ultimate motivation of the sort-of-antagonist seems fairly rote in the big picture.
But when Money Monster works, it works very well, and that is largely due to the third mode in which the screenwriters and director Jodie Foster (who, along with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, takes great advantage of making a moderately sized studio feel cinematic) are working: that of a thriller from the 1990s that happens to be set in today’s world. The police are brought in, standoffs ensue, and the whole thing reaches quite the level of genuine tension (A suspension of disbelief is also required, although that should be assumed immediately). The point might be unsubtle, but that means the point is clear: If there are greater fools, there have to be lesser ones, too. It only makes sense, right?