UK Release Date: 27th May 2016
Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Jodie Foster
Writer: Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden
Starring: George Clooney, Jack O’Connell, Julia Roberts, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito
Synopsis: When a desperate man strapped for cash after a bad business tip takes a television presenter hostage live on air, it leads to the unravelling of a major financial conspiracy.
The financial crisis of 2008 has made for rich cinematic material over the last few years, from the serious drama of Margin Call to the quick-witted comedy of this year’s The Big Short. With drama and comedy covered, the next logical move was for the crash to provide a backdrop to a tightly-written, tense thriller. Step forward Jodie Foster, returning to the director’s chair after five years to helm Money Monster. It’s a lean, stripped-down thriller mostly based in a single location and one that focuses on delivering fast-paced thrills with a clear message underpinning the action. Successful in pretty much all of its goals, the film represents a great night out at the movies.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a perma-grinning TV personality, hosting a cheesy financial show on cable and dishing out business tips to hyper-masculine movers and shakers in the business world under the guidance of his long-suffering director Patty (Julia Roberts). During one broadcast, a mystery man breaks into the studio and holds Lee at gunpoint before forcing him to wear an explosive vest. The man, Kyle (Jack O’Connell), reveals he lost everything after a bad stock tip on Lee’s show. Kyle demands answers both from Lee and from Walt Camby (Dominic West), CEO of the company in which he placed his life savings.
In the bloated world of two and a half hour blockbusters and indulgent Judd Apatow comedies, there’s a lot to be admired about the slim running time and brisk pacing of Money Monster. Shot mainly within the central television studio, the film maintains a kinetic pace as Foster keeps the story moving from the first shot to the last, whether it’s by focusing on Clooney and O’Connell, flicking to a panicked Julia Roberts in the control room or following the financial duplicity going on in the wider world.
Such a stripped down storytelling position could not work without very strong central performances. Thankfully, the central trio of Clooney, O’Connell and Roberts is more than up for the challenge. Clooney dials up his charismatic doofus persona to only a couple of notches below his panto turn in Hail, Caesar! and Roberts is nicely subdued as the cool head trying to keep everybody alive. The pick of the bunch, though, is Jack O’Connell who completely disappears into the role of the working class Queens man struggling to adjust to a cash-strapped world and finding it impossible to make family life work in an environment when one bad risk can bring life crashing down.
O’Connell is rapidly proving himself to be one of the world’s finest actors and he’s on top form here, whether yelling threats, showing surprising emotional depth in scenes that force him to confront his predicament or delivering exposition-heavy rants on the state of the world. Unfortunately, it’s when Money Monster follows O’Connell’s rants into the wider world that it begins to stumble. The film contrives a wide-ranging conspiracy involving Dominic West’s two-dimensionally crooked businessman that never quite packs the punch the film wants it to provide. There are nice nods to viral news consumption and the way the media covers a crisis, but it’s far more interesting when the story is heating up under the bright lights of the TV studio.
Despite the shortcomings of the world outside its initial setting, Foster does a great job of building Money Monster to its climax with sustained momentum, even if it never quite manages to bring about much in the way of genuine tension. From its odd moments of bizarro comedy to moments of genuine horror, Money Monster is an intriguing and consistently entertaining take on a rather straightforward hostage premise. Its wider plotline might not ring true, but when it’s attacking the hypocrisy of the financial world and the media through which it is filtered, it’s certainly got a point to make.
Pop or Poop?
It’s not going to win Oscars or go down in history as a major cinematic landmark, but Money Monster succeeds in its goals. It is a fast-paced and gripping thriller bolstered by impressive direction and a trio of remarkable central performances. There are issues with its wider world and a lack of narrative complexity, but this is starkly simple filmmaking that gets the job done with real ease.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.