Despite an incredibly rudimentary handling of themes and material more intelligently and timelessly presented decades ago, Jodie Foster’s latest directorial effort, Money Monster, is at the least an efficiently paced situational drama sometimes masquerading as a thriller (in the loosest sense of the term). Premiering out of competition at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival days before its wide release, the Sony property scored a surprisingly formidable box office take, a worldwide gross of just over ninety-three million (a little less than half that accrued at the domestic box office). Modern matinee idols George Clooney and Julia Roberts do their best to stagger through a hackneyed episode of politically minded lip service, but this contemporary rendering of corporate greed and Wall Street wrongdoing meant to be skewered by plebian naiveté, wherein a man takes a popular television show host hostage, can’t even enter the same ring as something like Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976).
Financial TV host for “Money Monster” and celebrated personality Lee Gates (Clooney) begins his day like every other, a barrage of flirtatious interactions with female staff members, including with show director Patty Fenn (Roberts). It is business as usual when filming commences until an irate stockholder, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) crashes the set and takes Gates hostage at gun point, strapping a bomb to his chest on live television. A short time prior, Gates had raved about investing in Walt Camby’s (Dominic West) new tech stock (which utilizes a new speed trading methodology) Ibis, just a short time before the business crashed and the entity lost 800 million overnight over in what was credited as a ‘glitch’ in the algorithm used. Now, Budwell, who invested all he had (sixty grand) is out for blood, his life in financial ruin, upset he listened to Gates’ careless recommendations to invest in a system he is convinced is rigged.
Foster’s film, her first since the ill-conceived Mel Gibson mental health romantic drama The Beaver (2011), is largely too slick for its own good. Whatever compelling arguments are to be culled from the opening set-up of a screenplay penned by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf are quickly vanquished by increasing narrative convenience and an obnoxious dumbing down of conceptualization—this is not nearly as cynical or cunningly conceived as it should be. Even Clooney’s grating Lee Gates, meant to be a satirical approximation of Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” is so toothless Foster may as well be attempting to criticize instead Bravo’s Andy Cohen.
Worse, there’s a glaring irresponsibility to Money Monster’s flaccid attempts to shake its buttery fingers at corporate corruption because it basically condones the violent actions of Jack O’Connell’s hysterical Kyle Budwell, a man both Clooney’s character and the audience are led to empathize with. The problem here is how his character exemplifies the predicament of entitlement, as even a working class citizen, demeaned and chewed up by corporate vampirism he may be, is allowed a certain degree of understanding despite his actions. Because of his hostile hostage takeover, Julia Robert’s valiant Patty Fenn is able to direct Christopher Denham’s hapless producer into solving the fraudulence behind Dominic West’s ‘glitchy’ algorithm blamed for the sudden loss of eight hundred million dollars—and all within a ninety minute running time from the convenience of a head-set. This allows not only for O’Connell’s actions to be understandable, but even justifiable, because the screenplay never allows for any complex shading (which includes the ability to generate any kind of tension, whatsoever).
Foster’s structuring and pacing somewhat recalls the ambience of Spike Lee’s superior 2006 film Inside Man, which she happened to star in. As a portrait of New York City’s multitudes, it attempts the same sort of cross sections, at least with civilians vs. police (a prominent Giancarlo Esposito). But the decision to converse so seamlessly with contemporary culture’s most vapid representations of popular media while force feeding a fantastically unbelievable resolution, Foster relinquishes timelessness for crass efficiency.
Presented in 2.39:1 high definition, Money Monster is treated to a rather standard transfer, although the limited interior space comprising most of the action (littered with unnecessary montages from Iceland, South Korea, and South Africa to instill a global connectedness), this seems a waste for the talents of DP Matthew Libatique (who lensed Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream for Aronofsky). Several extra features are included.
Three deleted sequences, including a set of montages with a different opening sequence to the film, are included.
George Clooney – The Money Man:
Clooney is featured in this five and a half minute feature on the construction of his character.
Inside the Pressure Cooker:
This ten minute segment features cast and crew as they comment on the meaning and intention of the film.
Analysis of a Scene – The Showdown:
This seven minute segment has Foster explaining the structure and purpose of the film’s climax.
Dan the Automator (feat. Del the Funky Homosapien):
The music video for “What Makes the World Go ‘Round (MONEY!)” is included for viewing pleasure.
Entertaining but not as intelligent as its conceit would promise, Money Monster is a glossy melodrama good enough to pass the time but ultimately disappointing considering the talent behind the camera.
Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆