There are quite a lot of topics tackled in Jodie Foster’s new film, Money Monster. It makes statements – both overt and subtle – on Wall Street, class, sexism and politics. While the film is a well-executed thriller, managing to stay fairly tense throughout, it doesn’t give us anything new to think about when it comes to those topics. Yes, Wall Street exudes a now inherently amoral nature, the divide between socio-economic classes is still growing, sexism is alive and well especially in the corporate world, and politics can be manipulated. However, what Money Monster does get right is its depiction of today’s media and how the truth is being sacrificed for the sake of entertainment.
It takes a gun to the head to make a ridiculous money talk show on a news network do actual journalism. Julia Roberts’s character makes an offhand remark about the show’s lack of real news as she gets ready to direct “Lee Gates’s Money Monster,” which is a cross between Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” and a dude’s fantasy of being in rap video. In a role that is more outfitted for someone like Robert Downey Jr. (and after seeing Clooney’s embarrassingly bad dance moves, how can you argue with me there?), Clooney’s Gates is so far down the rabbit hole of his own ego to truly recognize his influence on everyday people’s financial decisions. It’s an unsettling thought that people would take a guy like this seriously, but haven’t the past several months proven how easy it is for ridiculous individuals to gain that kind of influence?
All of his exaggeration and theatrics come back to bite Gates in the ass when a young working class man Kyle (Jack O’Connell) walks onto the live set with a gun, bomb and his finger on the trigger. Taking the set of “Money Monster” hostage, Kyle wants answers as to why he lost a $60,000 investment based on Gates’s recommendation to invest in IBIS Capital. What starts out as an average hostage situation evolves into a real investigation into the truth. Did Kyle and many others lose a total of $800 million due to an algorithm glitch? When that question becomes the center of the story, that’s when Money Monster gets good.
Foster is an efficient and skilled director, but she relied a little too much on the actors than editing to create an air of suspense. That’s not to say that the performances were bad, far from it. Jack O’Connell is dynamite (ha), which is no surprise. O’Connell brought a lot to a character who could have easily been written off as crazy. Roberts doesn’t have much to work with here, when compared to Clooney and O’Connell, but she helps move the plot forward, which is right in line with her character. Her best scenes are when she starts bearing down on her team and IBIS’s CCO, Diane Lester (played by Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe) to get to the truth of the situation. Balfe, whose character initially came off as a corporate mouthpiece, has one of the most interesting transitions when she proves that there is more to her character than meets the eye. If you’ve seen Dominic West in Showtime’s The Affair, you know West can play an unapologetic scumbag well.
Money Monster is entertaining with solid performances and an engaging plot. The film ends a little too neatly and its inevitable descent into Wall Street felt a tiny bit contrived. It sort of made question who this movie is really about or made for at times. Its messages may be a little muddled and disheartening, but if it inspires audiences to ask more from their news media (without, you know, resorting to hostile methods to do so), then it gets the job done. The media has to stop playing softball and start getting the bottom of what’s going on in this world, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Money Monster may not be more than a popcorn thriller, but it’s very far from being brainless trash. Honestly, I can’t say that about a few news networks.
Money Monster opens in theaters on May 13, 2016.