This article was originally published to The National Student on 31st May 2016
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of Money Monster, where led by his beleaguered, soon-to be ex-director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), he gives tips on which stocks his viewers should invest in.
On today’s show however, he’s in trouble. Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), an investor who lost thousands following one of Gates’ tips, enters the studio with a bomb and a gun, taking Gates and the production team hostage. The company he invested in lost $800million in one day, and Kyle’s come to the show in an effort to prove that the system was rigged.
With a bomb strapped to her star, and a desperate man holding them all hostage, Patty works to uncover the truth to save them all.
Right at the start, in voiceover to the audience and also on TV in-film to his audience, Lee Gates states that ‘You don’t even know where your money is’ – it’s all numbers and photons in a computer system. This would be revelatory in the 90s.
Jodie Foster seems interested by the fact that the stock exchange, your money, and TV shows like Gates’ all co-exist, in a precarious union, but never shows us why it’s unfair, she just repeats constantly (through Kyle) that it is.
It’s a weak, meaningless decision to have Kyle’s anger directed at one fictitious company’s dishonest dealings, rather than at the pervasive, manipulative attitudes of Wall Street which constantly leave real people like him in dire straits. With the damage of the 2008 crash still unrepaired and unrepaid, it feels reductive, even insulting.
Kyle’s anger is portrayed with a game intensity by Jack O’Connell, but that’s all he brings to the table. He’s repetitive, never getting his big moment to say something powerful. Instead he rambles incoherently about how everything is unfair; the few moments it feels like he could be about to open up to Gates are always cut short.
Foster’s direction is too busy gearing the plot (through a few meaningless, shock twists played more for laughs than anything else) into action, or cutting away to Julia Roberts as she argues with financial higher-ups over her headset mic. Roberts never shares a scene with O’Connell, but she and Clooney both plough their way through the material with their inherent charm and charisma. Neither give particularly dynamic performances, but their characters aren’t written well either.
Giancarlo Esposito fares worse as the police captain managing the hostage situation, as he asks for “the whole shebang”, one of many laughably bad lines delivered with complete seriousness.
There are shots and instances of editing here that are so incoherent, so lacking in weight, that it’s a wonder they were ever approved. At one point, we’re taken around the world from a drug-hazed apartment in Seoul, to a home in Reykjavik, and then to a revolutionary strike movement in South Africa. What connects these scenes in the shots is that Money Monster is being broadcast in all of them. But what links them in actual plot or themes is barely apparent at the time, so they instantly slip from the mind, as the film jerks forcibly back to the TV studio. These and more moments are all hollow, more concerned with the ticking of plot checklists than actual story.
Money Monster isn’t well made, but with a few charming performances and a zippy enough pace, most people won’t notice it. Its biggest problem is that it says and does nothing interesting or shocking. Sure, it’s about important topics, but none of it registers. The deflating ending offers a resolution, long before anything really begins.
Money Monster (2016), directed by Jodie Foster, is distributed in the UK by Tristar Pictures, Certificate 15.