Money Monster is a testament of George Clooney’s talent and continued success as an actor. I don’t think this film would have survived without him. Going in, I already felt like it suffered from overexposure as I’ve seen this trailer with every movie for the last two months. I was expected to be annoyed hearing the same banter between him and Julia Roberts or by Jack O’Connell’s unplaceable Boston/Brooklyn/British accent. The latter was still grating but Clooney lights up the screen with his smarmy comments and energetic charisma. The performances and character interactions carry a film whose whodunnit plot manages to be both extremely basic and confusing.
I was inherently sold with the flashy atmosphere of a CNN type financial show hosted by cocky finance personality Lee Gates (Clooney). Besides the cheesy graphics and the ridiculous hip hop infused back up dancers to open the show (in which Lee joins in), you got a sense of the community of all those a part of the program. There’s the slight contention of director Patty (Roberts) who took another job because of needing a break from Gates, the young producer Ron (Christopher Denham) who gets fucked with for being so green and the loyal cameraman Lenny (Lenny Venito) who knows someone has to do the job. They’re all overly comfortable with each other that immediately puts you in step with their routine. On this particular day, their tight-knit world is rocked when on air a frantic Kyle (O’Connell) brings a gun and a bomb on set disgruntled that Gates’ advice caused him to lose all his savings. The film surprisingly sustains its tension as this bottle episode traps the TV crew with the live explosive. The police are trying to negotiate or take him down on the outside and inside, the young man pleads Gates for answers and Patty runs the show.
The film weakens as we begin to explore the financial quagmire that led to this mess that being a major company Ibis, run by sinister looking CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West), in a day lost $800 million dollars due to a “computer glitch”. This is set up in an opening graphics montages that makes it abundantly clear that Camby took the money but what’s bothersome is everyone seems surprised by that. For some reason there is no question of this glitch and it’s unheard of for the head of the corporation to steal money! It’s frustrating how much time is devoted to uncovering the conspiracy when we know the culprit. I like the inclusion of outside players being a software engineer in Seoul and some hackers in Russia to show the grand scale of how economics becomes global but the script seems to have the need to complicate a simplistic money trail that leads to the number one suspect. All the dialogue linked to that plot, mostly delivered by Roberts becomes hokey as she constantly yells about “getting some answers”.
I don’t want to write off the script completely because I did find effectiveness in its commentary on social media and our 24 hour news culture as all eyes are on the hostage crisis. Some civilians take it as a joke or it’s seen as another trending topic. Director Jodie Foster chooses to focus on people’s inability to focus on the dire situations greed and money mismanagement has brought us to and channel it through a singular event. She directs with levity only so those jolting reminders of the violent reality this movie resides in are impactful. As we build towards the climax asking who is to blame, it’s more important to ask will we care as the film posits this is just a blip on our radar between cat videos.
Money Monster is effective with pulling emotional punches I didn’t expect. It’s going for a microcosm, rather than taking on all of Wall Street ala The Big Short and interacts on a more personal level with the characters. I wish it understood that its strengths lay outside its money trail plot. Clooney’s smile and Roberts’ determination are what keeps the film going. I will reiterate that you see George Clooney dance which is more than that $800 million can buy.