The latest exploration of the U.S. financial crisis and its many casualties is brought to light from a new angle in “Money Monster.” We all hate the corporate greed that’s been running rampant on Wall Street and this movie grasps the sheer desperation of those who have lost it all in the game. Think 2015’s “The Big Short” meets 1976’s “Network” and you’ll have an idea of what to expect.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a loudmouth television personality with his own financial t.v. program. Lee resorts to stupid video clips, meaningless graphs, silly dance numbers and obnoxious costumes to keep his audience entertained. After following some of Lee’s rotten on-air investment advice, the now-broke delivery truck driver Kyle (Jack O’Connell) bursts into the studio with a gun and an explosive-filled vest. He takes Lee and the crew, including producer Patty (Julia Roberts), hostage and turns to the airwaves to demand answers from the mega corporation who screwed him out of his $60,000 life savings. As Kyle’s inquiries begin to raise some very puzzling questions, the t.v. crew begins to do some digging of their own — and they soon uncover some high level criminal activity.
Clooney and Roberts may bring the star power, but their performances are far upstaged by O’Connell and, in minor supporting roles, Giancarlo Esposito (Captain Powell) and Emily Meade (as Kyle’s girlfriend Molly). O’Connell is heartbreaking across the board. I felt the sorrow and desperation in his last ditch effort to simply get some answers. This is his movie and he owns it.
Jodie Foster directs with a breezy, brisk style, resulting in a movie that (finally) doesn’t feel like it has expired long past its runtime. Sure, the standard formulaic thriller elements are all present and accounted for, but the film entertained me and held my attention until the end. The major problem isn’t the script (which is tight overall); it’s that this “thriller” never had me on the edge of my seat. I never truly felt like any of the characters were ever in any real danger, and that sorely hurt the movie. Still, this is a solid adult drama that’s worth seeing.
“Money Monster” is the spiritual companion piece to last year’s Oscar-nominated movie “The Big Short.”
In “Money Monster,” Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) is a disgruntled working-class man has lost his family’s life savings by buying stock in a big (tech? pharmaceutical? I’m not certain) company that has somehow lost all of that money due to a supposed computer glitch. Frustrated and fed up, he takes over a “Mad Money”-like television show and holds its host, Lee Gates (George Clooney) hostage as he demands answers for himself and all of the other investors that lost their money. All the while, the show’s producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is forced to orchestrate negotiations between Budwell, Gates, the police, and the company’s executives while at the same time trying to discover the truth behind the company’s massive and mysterious financial loss.
Director Jodie Foster is skilled at balancing a fairly dense and complex subject matter — the world of Wall Street and corporate finance — with a fairly intense hostage thriller. Among the performers, O’Connell is the clear standout; through an authentically believable performance, he brings an emotional weight that neither Clooney nor Roberts are able to deliver (although this is some of Roberts’ best work in recent years, that unfortunately isn’t saying much). The problem is primarily in the story: the movie’s high concept aims high, but it can’t quite deliver.
While the story feels authentic and accurately captures the frustration of the middle class with corporate executives who seem accountable to no one, it lacks gravitas. While we can understand the anger on display here — after all, this is the type of situation that caused the Occupy movement — both the fictional nature of the story and some of the more ridiculous plot elements strain credulity just a little too much and push the narrative just a little too far to land the emotional punch that it throws.
The film is entertaining enough and engaging enough, but it isn’t as good as you want it to be. Given the talent and the concept behind the movie, it’s a disappointment.