Though it may not be remembered as much as the big summer blockbusters raging around it, Money Monster delivers a solid, if at times, rough, entry into the 2016 filmscape.
Directed by Jodie Foster, Money Monster opens on the set of a high rated and ostentatious investment show days after a major investment firm, Ibis Capital, loses $800 million in capital. This causes many who bought into Money Monster’s host Lee Gates’ (George Clooney) advice that investment was “safer than a savings account,” to lose a great deal of money. The show is quickly interrupted by a delivery man, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell, who wants answers for why all of his life’s savings is gone and blames Gates and Ibis CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) for his loss.
It’s possible for even a stellar performance to be overlooked with a sketchy start, and I was so afraid the main character, Lee Gates, was about to fall into this tough category. When the conflict of the story was presented, Clooney seem to fall into a great rhythm. Clooney began the movie playing a caricature of snappy “entertainment journalism” but showed his considerable chops as a life-hardened bitter man with nothing but his financial success to look back on.
Unfortunately the same could not be said for the show’s director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts). Roberts was not a weak link but her considerable talent seemed wasted on a secondary character who is stuck sitting in a room delivering exposition and pushing forward the plot rather than engaging with either of the leading men. In the movie’s fast paced third act, Roberts gets a real chance to stretch her legs, but at that point the movie had already swung so far away from the initial premise that she became an almost unnecessary voice during the film’s most thrilling moments.
Speaking of thrilling moments, the antagonist turned voice of the people, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), really stole the show, delivering a high energy and charismatic performance from beginning to end. Whether taking the studio by force, being dressed down as a failure from his girlfriend (Emily Mead), or calling out the most powerful people on Wall Street, O’Connell’s performance added a much needed level of excitement when the plot seemed to crumble.
Now to address the foundation of the movie, the script. This movie unfortunately used great emotionally charged and exciting moments to tell a mostly by-the-numbers plot about a convoluted international financial fraud that lost a major investment firm and ton of people a lot of money. Not only that, the point of view switched between the action in the studio, the bumbling attempts of the police to get into the studio, an intrepid communications representative (Caitriona Balfe) attempting to uncover the truth, a wall street CEO and COO trying to cover up a really tough to follow controversy, and a studio producer running around New York. It seemed to me this movie was a story about deep characters discovering purpose in intense conflict but the movie constantly forced you away from such plots to worry about what was happening in the police van outside the building.
I enjoyed this movie for about the entire time I watched it. Propped up by a powerhouse ensemble and an often well choreographed scene structure, Money Monster delivered a solidly thrilling and often humorous experience. It may not have made me think any differently about the financial issues threatening the world today, but it definitely made me fall in love with old Hollywood again.