Hugely entertaining and well acted, Money Monster keeps us on the edge of our seats with a tense plot, although it also becomes too implausible

Money Monster

Money Monster (2016)

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.

Di­rect­ed by Jodie Fos­ter and screened out of com­pe­ti­tion at the 2016 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, Mon­ey Mon­ster 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 praise from the au­di­ence, which is fair since the film is quite good and ef­fec­tive, all things con­sid­ered. The only prob­lem is that it starts to be­come more and more im­plau­si­ble in its sec­ond half, mak­ing us think that it may be a lot more naïve than its sub­ject would let us imagine.

Writ­ten by no less than six hands and with a ti­tle that couldn’t be more ob­vi­ous, Mon­ey Mon­ster seems like a mod­ern dumb­ed-down Sid­ney Lumet movie — a Net­work (1976) of our times as far as TV sen­sa­tion­al­ism is con­cerned. 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, takes Gates hostage and forces 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 cost $800 mil­lion to in­vestors. Now, as the guy wants an­swers, Lee and his long­time di­rec­tor Pat­ty Fenn (Ju­lia Roberts) need to find them be­fore Kyle does any­thing reckless.

With an ef­fec­tive be­gin­ning that keeps the ac­tion con­fined to a TV stu­dio as we fol­low a tense hostage sit­u­a­tion, Fos­ter shows us once more her tal­ent be­hind cam­eras af­ter The Beaver (2011), this time to build 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 or else it goes off). The skill­ful edit­ing makes every­thing quick and dy­nam­ic right from the first scene, help­ing main­tain a sense of ur­gency that is es­sen­tial to make us care about the safe­ty of Clooney’s char­ac­ter while let­ting us won­der about the iden­ti­ty of a Ko­re­an man, two Ice­landic guys and some South Africans who show up with­out much warn­ing on the screen.

But none of this would work if it weren’t for the film’s ex­cel­lent per­for­mances. Clooney is at his most talk­a­tive and ec­cen­tric as a TV co­me­di­an, and the way he de­liv­ers his lines sounds in­sane­ly sur­re­al some­times (“Your mon­ey bet­ter be fast!”). In fact, his char­ac­ter is so clue­less about the rest of the world that he even makes us pity him when we learn the an­swer to his ques­tion “What’s my life worth?” as he pleads with 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 re­al­ly ex­plain how far all this gets in the sec­ond half, but Clooney does his best to sell that.

Like­wise, Ju­lia Roberts of­fers a wel­come con­trast to Clooney’s char­ac­ter, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with him from a dis­tance and us­ing ra­tio­nal de­ci­sions and a lot of wit to pre­vent this crazy sit­u­a­tion from go­ing off the rails — and it is a real sur­prise to know that Roberts and Clooney didn’t work so much to­geth­er in this movie due to sched­ul­ing rea­sons and that her scenes were shot with a green screen over those TV mon­i­tors placed be­fore her. Mean­while, Jack O’Connell con­tin­ues to prove to us how tal­ent­ed he is af­ter shin­ing in Starred Up (2013) and ‘71 (2014), in­ject­ing so much en­er­gy and in­ten­si­ty into his per­for­mance that we end up feel­ing deeply 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 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 the truth by con­tact­ing the pro­gram­mer who cre­at­ed the al­go­rithm. What Lester dis­cov­ers is an in­ter­est­ing twist that ex­pos­es the dri­ving am­bi­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and how peo­ple with mon­ey will stop at noth­ing in their de­sire for profit.

And it is pre­cise­ly be­cause of the film’s good in­ten­tions that it is dis­ap­point­ing to see Mon­ey Mon­ster be­come so im­plau­si­ble (or should I say stu­pid) in its sec­ond half, when the po­lice choose an ab­surd so­lu­tion for a hostage sit­u­a­tion and the ac­tion moves to the streets. In a way, this di­lutes the strength of the po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary it wants to make, even if it’s not such a clever and in­sight­ful com­men­tary in the first place. Still, the movie is huge­ly en­ter­tain­ing and well-act­ed enough to be worth our time.


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