Money Monster is a lean thriller that delivers its message via sledgehammer satire. It points a damning finger at the financial tycoons and media apparatus that enable billion dollar swindles. These are easy targets for sure, but Director Jodie Foster deserves credit for crafting a fairly riveting film. The pacing is near real time, so you're sucked in seconds after the opening credits. Money Monster is also filled with dark humor that hits perfectly in tense moments. The script by Jamie Linden and Alan DiFiore channels populist rage much like last year's The Big Short. Different viewpoints on unbridled capitalism will surely color how this Tri-Star Pictures film is interpreted by audiences.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the bombastic host of a popular finance show called Money Monster. Imagine CNBC's Jim Kramer revved up like a carnival barker. He's taken hostage on live television by Kyle Budwell (Jack O' Connell), a distraught everyman who lost everything when a company's stock mysteriously plummets. As the police try to gain control of the situation and the world tunes in to the spectacle, the show's director Julia Roberts orchestrates a bold plan to save her star.
The opaque nature of financial crime is the bullseye Money Monster repeatedly targets. Companies fail, billions are lost, lives are ruined, and the punishments never fit the severity of the crime. In this situation, the little guy bites back in an extreme way. It's preachy, but by no means boring. Jodie Foster doesn't get bogged down in the why. She frames the story like a procedural crime drama. The characters get to the bottom of a mystery, which just happens to be a parable on greed and human nature.
Clooney will probably be lambasted because this film fits into his political motives. He also produced Money Monster. Disagree with his politics if you want, but the guy is an exceptional actor. He wears so many hats as Lee Gates. He pivots from arrogant to terrified, to determined with ease. His interplay with Jack O' Connell, especially during the first act, is brilliantly executed. He's about as versatile as they come in a leading man.
The subject matter is real world, but the way the authorities handle it is entirely implausible. Money Monster is not mysterious about its resolve. This means the audience will have to seriously suspend disbelief. There's a clear lesson being taught. That's the entire point of the film. I think that it does pour on, but that's not such an offense here. The good parts that surround the allegory more than make up for any soap box moments.
Money Monster comes and goes in a blink. It's one of the rare films that are exactly as long as it needs to be effective. It's never boring, well-acted, and has a few laugh out loud moments. It probably won't be on any hedge fund traders 'best of' lists, but that's an audience the filmmakers definitely don't care about annoying.