Published May 13, 2016It's always refreshing to find a thriller, like Jodie Foster's Money Monster, that's propelled by ideas and characters instead of the usual creaky formulas and preposterous plot points that bear no passing resemblance to reality. It's a lean and taut white-knuckler fuelled by the collective anger over wealth disparity and the irresponsible nature of financial TV shows that prioritize entertainment over actually providing any valuable information to the public.
The day starts out like any other for Lee (George Clooney) and Patty (Julia Roberts), host and producer, respectively, of the titular show that's obviously been modeled on CNBC's Mad Money with Jim Cramer. Lee dishes out questionable on-air financial advice in between trademark flashes of vapid pageantry and bluster, while Patty cues up the inane videos that serve to punctuate Lee's talking points.
That all comes to an abrupt stop, though, when a delivery man sneaks onto the set and confronts Lee live on-air about a bad stock tip he'd followed based on the kind of misleading advice he peddles every day. His name's Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), and soon he's brandishing a gun and forcing Lee to strap on a vest of explosives while keeping his finger on the detonator. He wants answers about the apparent "glitch" that caused the company he invested in to suddenly lose $800 million. Lee and Patty feverishly attempt to obtain these from Diane (Catriona Balfe), the Chief Communications Officer of the company in question, who in turn tries to obtain answers from elusive CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West).
Clooney's usually at his best when playing slick hucksters who come undone at the seams when they find a heart they didn't know existed, and Money Monster is no exception. He's developed an easy chemistry with Roberts thanks to the Ocean's movies, and she matches her co-star with a cunning resourcefulness that regularly lets everyone know who's in charge while still always being mindful of what makes for great television. It's O'Connell, then, that has the trickiest role to play, making us empathize with an impulsive guy that lets his emotions get the best of him, and who's in constant danger of being taken out by the cops (led by Giancarlo Esposito) slowly moving in on him.
The film may not be as nuanced or comprehensive in its takedown of corporate greed as something like The Big Short, but then, it hardly aspires to be. Foster, in her best work yet as a director, is instead striving for an atmospheric, suspenseful and contained piece that pits the little guy trying to stay afloat in a troubling economy against the stuffed suits that couldn't care less about who they trample in their search for the almighty dollar. There's even a surprising amount of comedy to help balance out all of the tension, as things inch closer towards a satisfying conclusion that thankfully doesn't take the easy way out.
It's hardly a satire as pointed and important as the classic Network — a film about another man who took matters into his own hands on live television — but one of the reasons Money Monster works as well as it does is because it feels so topical and relevant in its multi-pronged skewering. There are plenty of people out there just like Kyle who have been pushed to their breaking point and simply don't know what to do about it. But they're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore.