James Cole Clay // Film Critic
The financial crisis back in 2008 had an enormous impact on the free world. There’s a lot to be said about it, but we’ve heard it all before, which came to a fever pitch with last year’s phenomenal film THE BIG SHORT.
Jodie Foster’s film MONEY MONSTER has zero on its mind in the way of shedding new light on the outrage behind big banks. However, with a confident directing style and a tone unlike any film in theaters right now, it transcends its faults with ambition and poise.
“Money Monster” is a show hosted by Lee Gates (George Clooney), a pompous ass that dances around his financial show— a la Jim Cramer, waxing poetic about economic trends that amount to just a handsome blowhard stroking his own ego. He’s grounded by his longtime producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), who is the only one who can keep him in check.
Roberts and Clooney are no stranger to finding magic together on-screen; we saw that in the OCEAN’S series, and they haven’t lost their stride in a decade plus later.
After a “glitch” causes the recently made public company IBIS to lose $800 million, everyman Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) holds the studio hostage claiming Lee made on-air promises that caused him to lose his $60k lifesavings.
The film operates on a level that’s made strictly to entertain by coming down off its ivory tower and relate to the audience without fully pandering the sentiments of the middle class’ economic struggles. Although the result is shallow and lacks a provoking outcome, the filmmaking team attempts something out of the ordinary: By showcasing its best visual beats in a real-time metronome, via the cinematography of Matthew Libatique (BLACK SWAN), who employs a kinetic vision that distracts from the bottled locale.
Like her character Patty, who spends her Friday nights getting cozy in her pajamas with takeout and receiving little praise for her dedication, Roberts is the unsung hero of the film. She’s cussing a blue streak, keeping the situation about as even-keel as can be, using her control room skills like a maestro conducting a final performance.
At times MONEY MONSTER can draw nervous laughs that elevate the tension rather than deflate entire momentum altogether. Foster takes a “Sorkinesque” approach to the rapid fire delivery of the players bouncing from the TV studio to the NYPD and onto the IBIS offices who are scrambling to find their CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West).
There’s lots of information to get out to the audience in a short amount of time, and buy and large everything in the film goes down smooth. But ask yourself, is that what you really want from a film talking about the financial crisis?
We are brought so close to the situation that the semantics behind big finance are sacrificed for the broader themes. However, simplicity keeps the film moving fluidly in mannered pacing, which will hold the audience’s attention. Like we saw earlier this year in HAIL, CAESAR!, Clooney makes for a damn good kidnapping victim. Here, Clooney is playing himself, and it’s great to watch him squirm and try to forge genuine relationship with his sympathetic captor. It’s a microcosm of the rich versus the poor, and it’s all communicated with ease behind O’Connell’s sad and sympathetic eyes.
The film’s brisk pacing never relents, but their isn’t any genuine suspense at play. The intrigue comes from watching people just do their jobs, from the PR personnel of IBIS scrambling to get answers to the hostages in the control room keeping calm while a gunman flaunts a weapon in front of millions of live viewers.
If you’ve seen the trailer of MONEY MONSTER, you may be able to predict the film’s third act endgame to a tee, but it’s the dedication to craft a film that let’s the audience think for themselves. Foster’s mid-budget thriller is a rarity in today’s world of mega-blockbusters and micro-indies. It’s newfangled tone allows the film to be worth the investment.
MONEY MONSTER opens nationwide today.