In the midst of a summer movie season already stacked with superhero adventures and cartoons based on computer games comes the socially conscious prestige film Money Monster. Starring A-list Oscar winners George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and helmed by two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster, this darkly humorous and at times gripping drama is packed full of commentary about the state of our media, the sense of helplessness of the working class and the absolute greed of Wall Street. Much of the time, it hits its mark, but it also tends to be less-than-subtle and heavy-handed.
The movie opens up on the set of a financial news show, which is where the film gets its name. Clooney plays Lee Gates, a thinly-veiled version of Jim Cramer from Mad Money, who clowns on air while giving stock tips. His director, Patty Fenn (Roberts), has recently taken a job at a rival network but hasn’t told Gates yet. All in all, this is shaping up like another broadcast, with Gates looking over the script and Fenn going over the guest list.
However, there has been a change. Originally, IBIS Clear Capital CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) won’t be available, so the company is presenting CCO Diane Lester (Catriona Balfe) in his stead. Gates has been provided the talking points from the company, which has recently seen its stock price tank after it lost $800 million due to a “computer glitch.”
During these first few minutes of the film, we are presented with the internal workings of one of these cable news programs, from the cameramen, sound guys, producers, director and editors, not to mention the host himself. It is actually pretty fascinating, and much credit goes to Foster for how well she handles the chaotic action. It also shows us how delivery man Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) is able to easily sneak on set without being noticed right away.
Of course, because you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Budwell is a disgruntled working man who saw his life savings eliminated due to the IBIS crash. He inherited $60,000 from his deceased mother and invested it in IBIS stock due to Gates proclaiming it was safer than a savings account. Budwell takes the set hostage in the hopes of getting answers, also thinking Camby would be there.
From this point on, the film tosses in extremely tense showdown moments balanced by legitimately funny scenes. For instance, police are able to track down Budwell’s pregnant girlfriend, Molly (Emily Meade), who nearly steals the entire movie in her short time on screen. Her confrontation with Kyle is both unexpected and unbelievably honest. The reaction she has to Kyle taking Gates hostage and losing their life savings is how one would expect an overworked expectant mother to act.
The second half of the movie moves somewhat into the preposterous as we start unraveling the plot of the missing $800 million. As one would expect, Camby is a greedy one-percenter who was looking to profit handsomely. Meanwhile, Gates and Henn realize they want to get answers for Budwell, and work to get him to meet with the IBIS CEO.
However, what helps this movie more than anything, even when it gets bogged down in its plot intricacies, is its rapid-fire pace. Clocking in at a lean 98 minutes, the film tries to replicate a real-time feel, with all of this happening in one afternoon and on-air. Therefore, even when we are presented with perhaps ludicrous scenarios, it comes and goes quickly, without you needing to dwell too much on it.
There will be obvious comparisons to Dog Day Afternoon, The King of Comedy and Inside Man, among others. While perhaps not nearly as good as any of those three movies, Money Monster is well worth your time. While we’ve seen these themes of working class angst and Wall Street malfeasance handled better and with more skill other places, kudos to Foster for instilling her film with an attempt at socially conscious themes. It’s all the better that it’s wrapped up in an entertaining movie.