I won’t deny that 90% of my interest in seeing Money Monster was due to the fact that it is directed by Jodie Foster, one of my all time favourites. Though nothing about the trailers or TV spots particularly sparked my fascination, with the only other cinema options being a combination of super powered mutants and psychedelic adventures in wonderland, it seemed as though the financial thriller would be my best bet for a child-less school holiday screening.
Money Monster tells the almost real time story of Lee Gates (George Clooney), a cable TV financial expert who is held hostage at gun point by a young delivery driver (Jack O’Connell) live on air who has fallen foul of some bad stocks advice given on his show. With the constant communication of his director Patty (Julia Roberts), Lee tries to placate the emotionally unstable Kyle as the cameras stay rolling and the world watches a dangerous situation come to a climax. The first thing that struck me about Money Monster was its vaguely confused tone. Fans of HBO’s The Newsroom will be familiar with the impressive balance of drama and subtle comedy that Sorkin achieved during its three seasons, and though the film tries to replicate this tone, it fails to build enough dramatic tension for the frequent jokes to be a relief, instead they just feel rather cheap, corny and out of place given the narrative context. Compared to a picture like The Big Short that succeeded in exploring the financial world in an interesting and unique way, Money Monster instead uses the goings-on on Wall Street to fashion a thriller-esque story arc that never fully reaches its potential in terms of tension and uses a muddy cyber crime with broad terminology to create a ‘villain’ that the audience never really gets the time to root against. Though the dramatic thriller aspect of the plot kind of works on a purely surface level, something else that the film suffers from is the notion that very few of the characters make the sort of logical decisions that one associates with real life, and though their decisions further the story, you can’t help but be pulled out of the universe to marvel at the nonsensical choices that are made. The Jodie Foster fan in me feels the need to search for something more positive to report, and what can be said about the film is that it is pleasantly economic in its story telling. It does not feel like a single second of screen time is wasted. With a tight 98 minute running time, I can honestly say that I was never bored, the film never drags its feet, where it falls down is in the minutia of the narrative rather than the execution of the story. Money Monster is by no means a disaster, but equally it is by no means a triumph, simply a run of the mill thriller with a predictable plot that hits all of the necessary tropes without ever really excelling at any point.
Though the picture itself leaves much to be desired, there is something endlessly comfortable about watching the likes of George Clooney and Julia Roberts on the big screen, even in 2016. Though they are rarely on screen together, Clooney and Roberts strike up a believable and enjoyable, if not slightly cliche, eccentric star/reserved director relationship that you have seen a million times before but in the hands of these two genuine stars, you don’t mind watching again. Clooney has an easy time playing the cocky, quipping Lee Gates, and he demonstrates enough tact to be able to change the audience’s perception of the character when the machinations of the plot being to unfold. Julia Roberts is perhaps less at home playing a behind the scenes type character who is supposed to be a rather dowdy, staying at home with the cat on a Friday night type, but she commands the screen as you would expect and together they make a great pair. Jack O’Connell as the unhinged hostage taker Kyle, despite a rather questionable accent, gives a perfectly fine performance given that his character in general is the source of much of the decision making annoyance that I experienced, but playing alongside two Hollywood powerhouses did not appear to daunt him, and he held his ground well with Clooney, the two actors sharing the majority of the picture’s running time.
Overall, Money Monster is a somewhat middling drama/thriller that boasts a cast list more impressive than the final product. The presence of George Clooney and Julia Roberts certainly brings a touch of star quality to the proceedings, but their star quality alone does not make up for the mismatched tone and the questionable plot points that make the whole thing seem just a little bit silly. Jodie Foster’s execution is solid and she clearly has an eye for directing, but with Money Monster she has yet to scale the same heights behind the camera as she has in front of it. Possibly one for the Netflix queue in a few months.