MONEY MONSTER. George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Catriona Balfe. Directed by Jodie Foster. 99 minutes.Rated M (Coarse language, mature themes, violence and sex).
‘Money Monster’ is unquestionably a well-made film. It captures the gaudy look and manic sensibility of those awful financial advice shows it is based on. Director Jodie Foster keeps the tension controlled but steadily rising throughout the hostage situation that develops (for the first hour at least). The A-list cast prove their worth with performances that – although never approaching new territory – deliver the watchability that has made them stars. But despite the rabid intent of its title and its loud and proud aim at the perceived inequality inherent in Wall Street, it never has the courage to stick to its convictions, copping out with a third act that takes some regrettable turns towards rendering the corruption and mistakes the fault of a flesh and blood antagonist. Like the irate investor that holds the titular television broadcast hostage, the film’s audience needs answers, but the ones that are forthcoming just aren’t that satisfying.
The 100 or so minutes play out in a rough estimation of real time, convincingly stitched together by editor Matt Chesse. George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a financial shark with George Clooney-esque magnetism who stars in a show on Wall Street peddling stock picking advice. The kind of show that no ‘well off’ person would watch nor take advice from, it’s bursting with scantily clad dancers, flashy infographics, cringe worthy audio cues and showy camera swoops. Julia Roberts is his long-time director Patty, who juggles the ego and spontaneity of her star with exasperated competence. Mid-broadcast, a stranger steps into the set, pulling a pistol from his jacket and lacing Gates up in a bomb vest. He is adamant that they maintain the broadcast, otherwise it will be detonated. It’s safe to say that nothing about this unusual situation bodes well.
Our surprise guest is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a New York native who lost what little savings he had on a bad tip from Gates. Patty clears the studio of any non-essential personnel and the police soon have a perimeter set up. Sick of these banking types getting away with destroying the lives of those under them for so long, Kyle plans on teaching the 1% a lesson they can’t forget. What he doesn’t count on is Gates’ burning desire to survive, even if that means uncovering the truth behind the suspicious stock crash which cost Kyle his investment (and other punters a total of $800 million).
Foster, in her fourth outing as director, keeps a watchful eye on the first two acts. The action is tense, despite that gnawing voice in your head telling you that Clooney and his Hollywood pals have to survive this encounter. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who played so beautifully with light and shadow in films like ‘Black Swan’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton’, opts for a more subject appropriate study of brightly lit, dynamic camerawork, and develops a convincing replica of the style of shows he is aping.
However Gates and Kyle’s detective work goes too far too fast. Other characters in the film who are at first hostile come around to their cynical view far too quickly, from the COO of the firm that they are investigating to the programmers of trading algorithms that they track down. In the quest to keep the running time manageable, the three credited screenwriters Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf and Jamie Linden have to take narrative shortcuts in hijacking character motivations to get to the ‘wow moment’ of a denouement that plays out in Federal Hall.
Similarly, when the film’s anger shifts from the broken and dubiously regulated murk of Wall Street towards an already unlikable human figure, basically a cinematic sitting duck, it loses its bite. What ‘The Big Short’ did so well last year was convey the frustrating lack of accountability, both legally and morally, able to be attributed to specific people after events like the GFC. That film left the industry savaged and audiences angry. ‘Money Monster’ on the other hand, tries to put a neat-ish bow on the proceedings which dampens the impact of its critique. It wants to have its tragedy cake and eat it too, but the script is ultimately too toothless to manage either.
As a thriller, ‘Money Monster’ delivers decent entertainment. As a shadow of the scathing satire that it initially looks to be, it disappoints.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out June 2.