Money Monster (2016)
Highly entertaining and well acted, Money Monster keeps us on the edge of our seats with a tense plot, even though it also becomes too implausible
Directed by Jodie Foster. Screenplay by Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf and Jamie Linden. Story by Alan Di Fiore and Jim Kouf. Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito and Caitriona Balfe.
Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster and screened out of competition in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, is a strange animal. It received mixed reviews from critics – which is understandable considering how it feels a bit simplistic when dealing with its themes – but earned enthusiastic applauses from the audience at the festival – which is fair, because the film is indeed very good and well made, all things considered. The only problem comes when it does start to become more and more implausible in its second half, making us think that it is more naïve than its subject would have us imagine.
Written by no less than six hands, Money Monster seems like a modern dumbed-down Sidney Lumet movie – a Network (1976) of our times as far as sensationalism on TV is concerned –, with a title that couldn’t be more obvious. George Clooney plays financial guru Lee Gates, who hosts his TV show “Money Monster” and is in the midst of airing it when a furious man called Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) invades the studio and takes Gates hostage, forcing him to wear a vest full of explosives. Kyle claims that he invested his entire life savings of $60,000 on a stock company that Lee endorsed a month before on his show, but the company collapsed due to a certain “glitch” in an algorithm that costed $800 million to investors. Now the guy wants answers, which forces Lee and his longtime director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to go look for them before Kyle does anything reckless.
With a good start that keeps the action confined in the studio as we follow a tense hostage situation, Foster displays once more her talent behind cameras after The Beaver (2011), this time to generate suspense and keep us on the edge of our seats almost the whole time – especially when it is all a matter of “unpressing” the button of the detonator of the bomb’s vest (Kyle has to keep his finger pressing the button all the time, or else it goes off). The expert editing also makes everything very dynamic and agile (from the very first scene, I should point out), which not only helps maintain a claustrophobic feel that is essential to make us care about the safety of Clooney’s character but also makes us wonder who are supposed to be a Korean man, two Icelandic guys and some South Africans who appear without much warning on the screen.
But actually none of this would make it work so well if it weren’t for the film’s excellent performances. Clooney is at his best talkative and eccentric like a TV comedian, and the way he delivers his lines sounds deliciously surreal sometimes (“Your money better be fast!”). In fact, his character is so clueless about the rest of the world – those who are not deep in money like he is – that he really does make us feel pity towards him when we learn the answer to his question “What’s my life worth?” as he pleads his audience to save his life. And we also understand why he feels so compelled to help Kyle after he begins to grasp the reasons behind the young man’s anger – it doesn’t explain how far it all goes in the second half, but Clooney sells most of it as best as he can.
Julia Roberts is also great, offering a welcome contrast to Clooney’s character, communicating with him from a distance and trying to prevent the situation to go off rails with rational decisions and wit – and it comes as a real surprise to know that Roberts and Clooney didn’t work together a lot in this movie, due to scheduling reasons. Basically her scenes were shot with green screen on the monitors in front of her. Finally, Jack O’Connell continues to show his immense talent after shining in Starred Up (2013) and ’71 (2014), with so much energy and intensity in his performance that we end up feeling sorry for his character’s tragic situation – made even more devastating by a humiliating (and hilarious) scene involving his pregnant girlfriend.
The rest of the great cast includes Dominic West as the elusive CEO of IBIS stock company Walt Camby, who is apparently nowhere to be found, and Caitriona Balfe as IBIS chief communications officer Diane Lester, who has no idea what provoked the “glitch” but decides to find out the truth by contacting the programmer who created the algorithm. What she finds out is an interesting twist that tackles the whole ambition of the capitalist system and how people with money will stop at nothing to have profit.
And it is precisely because of the movie’s good intentions that it is disappointing to see it become so implausible (and I should even say, stupid) in its second half, when the police go for an absurd solution for the hostage situation and the action moves to the streets. It kind of dilutes some of the power of the statement it wants to make – even though it is not such a clever and insightful statement in the first place. But still, it is highly entertaining and well-acted enough to be worth it.
June 22, 2016