1 hour, 38 minutes
Jodie Foster’s latest, “Money Monster,” has the distinction of showcasing a side of George Clooney never seen before — that of the hip hop impresario, bling blingin’ his way on stage surrounded by scantily clad fly girls.
Actually, “Money Monster” showcases the same side of George Clooney that most of his movies do, that of the suave but shallow cad who pretends to know more than he does. But as the host of the hit show “Money Monster,” Lee Gates, a Jim Cramer-esque TV pitchman, knows it’s all about image. There are elements of “Money Monster” that feel a little late, and elements that feel a little obvious, but overall Foster and Clooney, along with Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell, have crafted a tightly woven, very entertaining thriller.
Lee Gates is obnoxious, but that’s part of his persona. Over the years, Julia Robert’s harried producer Patti Fenn has put up with Gates through thick and thin, but she’s now finally worked up the gumption to leave. Another show has offered her a job and she’s taking it. Today is, naturally, her last day on the job.
The fact that Patti Fenn is just this close to leaving the show when a gunman shows up in the studio and takes Gates hostage on live television is an example of the predictable nature of this film, but the three leads are so good, so believable in their roles, that you don’t care if you’ve seen it before.
O’Connell, as Kyle Budwell, the aforementioned gunman, is angry because Gates, ever flippant, recommended a stock that later crashed. The stock in question, a publicly traded money market, is at the heart of what makes “Monster” current. Today’s stock exchange is dominated by electronic trading software that controls the lightning fast exchange of money across our national economic landscape. These “algos,” or algorithms, control nearly all the major high speed trading that goes on, and it happens so fast that human hands are no longer on the switch.
When the company in question loses $800 million dollars in the course of a single day, the stock plummets and the people in charge blame it all on a software “glitch.” Most of us would just accept that, figuring we don’t know anything about stock trading algorithms, but not Kyle Budwell. O’Connell plays Budwell pitch perfect as a working-class guy who’s mad as hell and not going to take it any more, but who doesn’t really understand what’s going on either. All Kyle knows is that “it was a glitch” is not working for him, especially since that glitch robbed him of every cent he had in the world.
While the screenplay for “Money Monster” may follow some pretty well-worn paths, and while some of the action in the film feels a little unbelievable, Foster does manage to subvert expectations several times, maintaining the film’s vitality. And while films about the financial crisis seem a little passé after last year’s “The Big Short,” it is a mistake to compare the two.
This film is about the danger of allowing so much of our economic system be controlled by machines with no human hand on the stick. It’s also about the cynical nature of television and how news gradually became info-tainment, and then, finally, simply entertainment. It’s also got some criticism of the 1 percent and the system that keeps them in power, but at the end of the day, “Money Monster” is a crime thriller and the story does not play second fiddle to the politics.
“Money Monster” is a solid, enjoyable thriller that might even make you think a little bit. Clooney, Roberts, and O’Connell are excellent. Foster’s direction is purposeful and deliberate, bringing together the threads of the story quite nicely. Yes, some of the action stretches the bonds of believability, but Jodie is making a cautionary tale with this film, so much of that can be ignored.
And ultimately, it’s just nice to see a movie made for grown ups, that has an adult perspective, but without the requisite sex, language and violence that these movie often feel they need. Sure, there’s some of each of those in “Money Monster,” but it’s the story and the performances that you’ll remember at the end of the day.
“Money Monster” is rated R for language, sexual situations, and some violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.