Title: Money Monster
Director: Jodie Foster
Major Players: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell
Out Of Five: 3
Jodie Foster’s fourth feature as a director received a four minute standing ovation when it was screened at Cannes last week. They, of course, had a red carpet as well. At the UK press screening the same evening, we had the red seats of Picturehouse Central. And there was no standing ovation.
Flamboyant financial commentator Lee Gates (George Clooney) fronts a daily TV show about the markets. He and his director Patty (Julia Roberts) find themselves plunged into a crisis when a distraught investor, Kyle (Jack O’Connell) bursts into the studio and takes Lee hostage. He’d followed one of Lee’s tips but the stock has plummeted and Kyle blames him for losing everything. But why did it crash so spectacularly? While the crisis is played out on live television, Patty has to work behind the scenes to uncover the real reason why Kyle, and all the other investors, were left high and dry.
We’ve had Margin Call, 99 Homes, its spiritual partner (in crime) piece, The Big Short, and now we have Money Monster, another look at the financial crash, although this time it’s not set during the tumultuous months when it all went south, or in the immediate aftermath. This is closer to now and some of that aftermath is still around, especially when it comes to hating financial high flyers.
Kyle is something of a descendant of Peter Finch’s Howard in Network: he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more. His anger seems to be directed more at Gates and the fact that the company he invested in keeps talking about the loss being due to a computer “glitch”. It’s a word we hear a lot of. As it all unfolds, it becomes apparent that something fishy has been going on and that the buck stops with company front man, Walt Camby (Dominic West), who was due to be interviewed live that day. Kyle wanted to get them both, but Camby is away, and, with help from Patty, hostage and gunman go in search of him for a face to face confrontation.
So that’s the thriller side. It’s all played out in real time, which you would expect to ramp up the tension but, for some unaccountable reason, it doesn’t and your knuckles stay the same colour throughout. It’s workmanlike and has some good moments, especially when it upturns one of the big conventions of a hostage drama. The police track down Kyle’s girlfriend, Arlene (Olivia Luccardi) and bring her to the TV station. She’s heavily pregnant and we’re all set for an emotional plea for him to put down the gun, again going out live on air. We get something rather different, it works perfectly but then it’s followed by a very cumbersome hint as to how the situation is likely to pan out.
Money Monster isn’t just a would-be thriller, it also aims to be something of a satire, with two distinct targets – the banks and, like Network, the media but here it’s the media’s impact on people. Kyle, and presumably thousands like him in New York, follow the show and trust Lee’s tips. But watch their reactions as the scenario is played out on TV. They’re all glued to their TVs – in the café, at work, anywhere. It’s compulsive watching, it’s live and it’s real. When it comes to an end, the camera is on the people in the café. Count to three, and the two guys who’d been playing table football beforehand re-start their game. Within minutes, everybody’s forgotten about what actually happened and the internet is flooded with funny film clips based on one memorable moment. Are we truly that shallow? It would appear so …..
High finance is the other target and has more potential. The language of the money markets is so jargon-packed, most people don’t understand it and let the whizz kids get on with it – and get away with everything as well. But, as Clooney points out, it’s not hard to understand at all, it’s just that the banks prefer it to look that way. Smoke and mirrors, as it were. At which point the film cops out, because it’s disappointingly easy to work out what Camby has been up to.
Yet, despite being hit and miss in its aim and having a slightly old fashioned feel, the film holds together better than you might think. The cast helps. Clooney isn’t especially stretched as the arrogant showman, but Julia Roberts is surprisingly good as his unflappable producer, exactly the sort of person you want in your corner when the chips are down. Young British actor Jack O’Connell is keeping illustrious company again (last time it was Angelina Jolie directing him in Unbroken): it’s not one of his more taxing roles, but he brings his familiar energy so that, over the course, of the film, your sympathies grow. And keep your eyes open for Lenny the cameraman (Lenny Venito), the bug-eyed everyman who says little but sees all.
Put alongside its near relations, Money Monster – it’s the name of Gates’ show, as well as having other meanings – is more of a distant cousin. The sharpness isn’t quite there in the satire and the thriller is short on thrills. It’s not a bad film, but when you look at the list of talent involved, you do find yourself wondering why it isn’t better.
Money Monster is released in cinemas on Friday, 27 May and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 26 May.