Accountability. It’s what everyone wanted to see when it came to the housing and financial crisis our country went through in the late aughts. But as we learned the hard way, life doesn’t work like that. The fat cats who started this whole mess walked away with barely any personal or professional liability. Director Jodie Foster’s MONEY MONSTER spins a semi-fantastical yarn that’s deeply rooted in reality. Crafty, clever and nail-biting, the electrifying thriller will have you engrossed and enraged.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the Jim Cramer-esque host of a successful financial advice show who is part carnival barker, part entertainment hustler/ truth-teller about all things money. He’s just about to do his last show with long-time collaborator/ director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) when they’re interrupted by Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a disenfranchised investor. Kyle lost his fortune on bad advice the so-called “Wizard of Wall Street” gave viewers about IBIS, a company run by slippery CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) and protected by CCO Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe, who’s radiant here) and CFO Avery Goodloe (fake Ron Silver Dennis Boutsikaris). Understandably, Kyle is “mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore!” He holds Lee and the rest of the staff hostage in an attempt to get answers as Patty attempts to craft riveting television and save Lee’s life.
Foster – with help from screenwriters Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf – keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. Any fat has been trimmed off the meat. There’s a genuine sense of urgency. The filmmakers also find room within the short run time to play with our allegiance to certain characters. They wisely build relationships between the staffers – like Lee’s friendships with Patty and producer Ron (Christopher Denham). And it’s great that things don’t always go smoothly, as shown through sequences like Lee’s risky stock market stunt and NYPD Captain Powell’s (Giancarlo Esposito) last ditch effort involving Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend (Emily Meade). We can empathize with flawed characters like Lee and Kyle because they are both victims in the grand scheme – a testament to O’Connell (who I’m convinced is “the new Tom Hardy minus the silly voices”) and Clooney’s keen abilities to bring out subtle dualities in their roles.
To keep things from getting too insular, we see what’s taking place outside – like the NYPD collecting information and the media spectacle the hostage situation creates on the streets. There’s a crackling energy to how and when information is delivered. We’re a silent character in the discovery processes. Levity is infused into the narrative, balancing out the intensity. The company’s scandal is framed within the appropriate context in the show. I’d also like to think of this as a manual on how to be a badass news director, crafting stories on the fly, maintaining journalistic ethics no matter what.
I didn’t have many complaints, but one moment irked me: It’s almost innocuous, but I took umbrage seeing Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction utilized as a button for a laugh. Though it comes at the end of the movie, that seemingly anti-supportive slight took me right out.
While the film as a whole tends to exploit our inherent need for answers, it’s never grossly manipulative or contrite. Yes, there are clues to who’s culpable that are obvious from the get-go, but the predictability of those plot beats is forgivable as the ride in between those highway markers is enjoyable.
MONEY MONSTER opens on May 13.