George Clooney and Julia Roberts star as financial TV host Lee Gates and his ace producer Patty, who are put in an explosive situation when an irate investor who has lost everything (Jack O’Connell) forcefully takes over their studio. During a deadly standoff broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty must work furiously against the clock to uncover the truth behind a tangle of big money lies – while also keeping themselves and their crew members alive in the process.
In Jodie Foster’s Money Monster, George Clooney harnesses all of his movie personas to play a slick cable TV infotainer who enhances his stock tips with back-up dancers and hyperbole.
Julia Roberts is the world weary producer with a direct line to Clooney’s earpiece, and a gift for anticipating the next wacky sound effect that will make his gaudy schtick stick. Together, Patty and Lee are a well-oiled machine, and they hold no illusions that they’re creating anything other than tid bits and talking points for the top end of town. Roberts’ and Clooney’s easy interplay is enjoyable to watch – though their earpiece interactions aren’t a patch on Holly Hunter’s handling of William Hurt in James L. Brooks’ far sharper news satire Broadcast News.
On this particular day, Lee has to demonstrate some nimble footwork to deal with the fallout from a market “glitch” that has wiped $800 million from the value of supposed blue-ribbon stock, Ibis Clear Capital. Lee delivers the news with a glib “sucks to be you”-like false concern for the investors affected by the anomaly. What really sucks for him, though, is that he’s enthusiastically spruiked Ibis as a sound investment for months; the goofy money man who doesn’t take himself seriously finds out the hard way that some of his viewers actually do put stock in his word – and one of those now-broke schmucks turns up at the TV studio with a gun, a bomb, and a complaint to lodge on live TV.
The desperate “Noo Yawk” battler (Jack O’Connell) demands accountability for the suspect stock spiral that has bankrupted him overnight, and it falls to Patty the producer to use her wits to stage manage the tense stand-off and sniff out a geopolitical scandal within the limited timeframe of a hostage crisis.
Money Monster is a pacey ticking clock caper which has the involvement of three Oscar winners with smarts. This alone has raised expectations for it to be an ‘important’ and ‘timely’ indictment of Wall Street, nefarious corporate shenanigans, 24-hour newstainment, and of our own tendency to gawk in groups during a crisis. There's digestible elements of all of that in the screenplay but if you’re thinking this high-stakes hostage drama will be a modern take on Sidney Lumet’s incendiary Dog Day Afternoon, you’ll need to manage your expectations downward and think more along the lines of, say, John Badham’s breezily contrived Nick Of Time. There are the usual “just go with it” cheat moments in this story of easy money, easily lost, with villains who are easy targets, and alliances against them easily formed.
Foster directs the action to familiar genre beats, gives the baddie a speech that makes us all complicit in his deeds, and lets the smart gals save the dumb fellas. At the risk of damning it with faint praise, it’s a low-risk investment with short-term dividends.
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