Directed by Jodie Foster
Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe
Film Review by Kieran Freemantle
Part thriller, part satire Money Monster is a rare directional effort from actress Jodie Foster that takes swipes against Wall Street and the media.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a Jim Cramer style media figure - both financial pundit and over-the-top showman. Gates is so impossible to manage that his director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) plans to leave him for another job. Patty's last show becomes more eventful than she intended when a disgruntled man, Kyle (Jack O'Connell) storms the show and holds Gates hostage - determined to get answers for an investment tip that went wrong making him $60,000 poorer. As tensions rise and Kyle becomes more unhinged Patty, her production team and the CCO of IBIS Clear Capital - Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) - start to believe that something underhand has happened at the investment fund.
The screenplay for Money Monster was on the 2014 Blacklist: a list of best unproduced screenplays in a given year. This is the second time Foster has tackled a screenplay from the list (the first being the Mel Gibson led The Beaver). At 98 minutes Foster does make a briskly paced thriller and does not let up when the plot gets going. It is a film that has a number of storylines converging to the same point and Foster and the screenwriters are to stitch these threads together. There are scenes set in Seoul, Iceland and South Africa that seem random at first but it all comes together near the end. The reason why the company lost $800m is easy to predict but it is still interesting to see how it comes together and the screenwriters are able to throw in the occasional surprise.
I am a sucker for films about the media and Money Monster does take a few jabs like a TV worker asking if Kyle said 'fuck' on TV after shooting a gun and holding a man hostage (because violence is okay as long as no one says naughty words) and Patty continues to direct the show after Kyle has taken control. Gates is a tabloid figure, someone who sees his job just to give showmanship rather than any serious journalism. The financial sector is also a target with Diane's hopelessly repeating the corporate speak when talking to Kyle, just like many politicians or PR people do on news programmes.
The big problem with Money Monster is its tone - it wants to be a serious thriller with a political satire edge and a comedy. There is the silliness of Clooney dancing with a giant dollar sign and Gates telling a producer to test some new anti-erectile dysfunction cream which leads to him getting called during an inappropriate moment. It's a delicate balance and Foster and the writer are trying to walk the fine line between absurdity and tragedy like when we meet Kyle's girlfriend but more often than not it felt more like the film was trying to have its cake and eat it. The film also has the problem of being slightly outdated - since the 2008 financial crisis bankers have been as popular as leprosy and Money Monster attempts to tap into this anger but the film would have been more impactful a few years ago when the anger was at its highest.
Money Monster has a top cast - beside from its big names the film features prolific actors like Giancarlo Esposito, Lenny Venito, Christopher Denham and Condola Rashad. Roberts is fine in the lead role but it’s hardly one that stretches her and Clooney was strong as the willing pantomime figure who has to undergo a change during the course of the film - Clooney has the comedic timing required for the role.
O'Connell has the toughest role as Kyle - making him a volatile young man whose best-laid plans go to waste while also trying to make him empathetic. It's a tough act but O'Connell has the talent to pull this off: turning Kyle from a man who has a plan to being pushed into despair when it all unravels for him.
Irish actress Caitriona Balfe was also notable as the seemingly inept CCO of IBIS Clear Capital Fund but ends up playing detective, investigating how the company lost $800m in one day. She is a moral person working in an amoral industry and tackling the plot of the film from a different angle.
Money Monster is a fun ride of a film that tightly ties all its plot threads together. Plenty of talented people worked on the film and there were lightly funny moments throughout. Yet the film was unsure whether it wanted to be a serious and entertaining thriller - an indictment of the financial sector or be more comedic in intent.