"Money Monster" is many things but subtle isn't one of them. The film is well-paced, decently acted, deeply cynical and yet, unbelievably dumb, sometimes simultaneously. The script is somewhat timely while also being so specific to a fictional company and financial catastrophe that it doesn't say quite as much about the real world as one would hope.
The film tells the story of Lee Gates (George Clooney), a pompous Jim Cramer-esque host of a financial show, "Money Monster," which falls along the lines of those found on CNBC and Fox. His director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), who has had it with the program and Gates, accepts another job across the street. Entering abruptly into the mild workplace dramatics is Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), a man who has lost his life savings in a bad investment, and is looking for someone to blame.
Budwell has a gun and an explosive vest that he attaches to Gates. He wants answers for a blown stock tip that cost him $60,000. IBIS Clear Capitol had just lost $800 million because of a purported computer glitch and Budwell is just one of many stockholders freaking out about losing everything. Thus, until he can get IBIS CEO Walter Camby (Dominic West) to explain exactly what happened and why, then no one is going anywhere and Gates just might explode. The twist: All of this is happening on live television.
"Money Monster" works better as a hostage thriller than it does as an indictment of capitalist greed or as a "Network"-esque satire. Director Jodie Foster's focus on keeping the events happening in real time works to keep the intensity up, but every time we leave Budwell, Fenn and Gates to focus on the police, all of that momentum is lost. Obviously there are going to be police coming up with some kind of plan to rescue the hostages, but the less time we spend with the central trio, the more the film falls apart.
British actor Jack O'Connell chews up the scenery as Budwell with a thick New York accent and huge, lost, puppy dog eyes, but his character is terminally underwritten.
In order for this movie to carry the power and substance the screenwriters and Foster likely intended, we need to empathize with Budwell as the everyman, the face of each person destroyed during the financial crisis.
Sadly, Budwell doesn't get to have an "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" speech. He is mad as hell and he tries to have a speech when he first takes hostages, but the script presents him as so cartoonishly stupid that he carries as much weight as Homer Simpson (pun partially intended).
Clooney's portrayal of Gates is the slick and savvy foil to Budwell. He is a man that can probably get the answers Budwell wants, but he's also been played and written as so boorish that his words don't carry much credence. When Clooney gets to have his big important moments late in the film, it's hard not to imagine the fictional people of the world not buying too much of what he is selling.
Julia Roberts anchors the film completely as the director of "Money Monster." She spends 90 percent of her onscreen time in a control room speaking into a microphone, but she brings such a calming presence to the events that her scenes are indispensable. If she was the character mostly talking down Budwell, the film's stakes and thematic significance would work much better.
"Money Monster" isn't a terrible movie, but it is a late one. Most of America has moved on from the all-but-forgotten financial crisis and a thriller about fictional financial malfeasance just won't cut it. This isn't "The Big Short" and it isn't trying to be. It just aims to be a timely thriller that tosses a few pointed jabs at capitalism. Unfortunately, the jabs are blunt, the thrills light and if people can forget the real Wall Street's lack of accountability, then it's unlikely anyone will remember this either.
Dir. Jodie Foster
Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX