Money Monster (2016)
Directed by Jodie Foster
I have a nervous tic. Whenever I feel tense, I pinch my palms. I’m not sure when it started. I do it when I’m in a stressful situation, but I also project it onto stressful situations in television and film. After “Money Monster,” director Jodie Foster’s financial thriller starring George Clooney, Jack O’Connell, and Julia Roberts, my palms were feeling pretty sore.
Cloooney plays Lee Gates, a loud financial guru on a schlocky cable news show, a la Jim Cramer’s MSNBC show “Mad Money.” Patty Fenn (Roberts) is his producer, a mom-like career woman who’s leaving the show in a week’s time. Last week, Gates called the stock of one of New York’s capital groups a “triple buy,” a sure bet for any investor. Blue-collar delivery guy Kyle Budwell (O’Connell) took that advice. When the stock bombed, Budwell lost everything. So he takes a bomb vest and a gun and sneaks onto the set of Gates’s show “Money Monster” while they’re filming their Friday episode. O’Connell demands the truth. He knows the system is rigged, and he wants to see the big-shots admit it. But in this twisty story, the real criminal might not be the one holding the gun.
Jack O’Connell (“Unbroken,” “’71”) is convincing as a real everyman, a middle-class stockholder in too deep. Budwell feels the burn of an American economic system that favors the wealthy (in this populist election cycle, Budwell may also be feeling the Bern). Clooney and Roberts are a ’90s dream team that still has what it takes to make a successful motion picture. In fact, time may have only made them more bankable. Clooney, especially, is extremely enjoyable. He has a ball as the loudmouth TV star. And as director, Foster keeps getting better with every feature, from two lesser-known indies to “The Beaver,” starring Mel Gibson and Foster herself. Now this.
As financial thrillers go, “Money Monster” isn’t the smartest I’ve seen. They toss around lingo, but this is as commercial as they get. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s a fast, non-stop intensity. Sometimes the twists are a little more predictable, but even then it leads you to ask more questions–you won’t be able to answer them all. But “Money Monster” also injects humor into its script, sometimes in places we can all agree are inappropriate. Stretches of suspense are stopped cold in their tracks by humorous lines that take us out of the thrilling spirit. If I’m laughing, I’m not pinching my palms. That’s not good. Still, the ethical ambiguity makes “Money Monster” an edge of your seat success. There’s no closure, but without a politician to focus on Wall Street greed is there really an ending in sight? “Money Monster” is a movie of the moment.