Directed by Jodie Foster
While the subject matter is obviously very different, my reaction to this week’s “Money Monster” is surprisingly similar to last week’s “Captain America: Civil War.” In both cases I enjoyed the movie and yet some aspects of each story seemed to undermine the respective premise.
In “Money Monster,” George Clooney plays the host of a financial advice cable TV show of the ‘entertainews‘variety. This is financial news as infotainment, with ratings rather than return on investment as the currency of the day. His Lee Gates is loud, brash, arrogant and boorish. He’s almost as dismissive of his staff as he is of the real needs of his audience until the day one member of his audience holds him to account.
Jack O’Connell (“Skins,” “’71,” “Unbroken”) plays the disgruntled viewer who, having lost his entire inheritance based on Gates’ recommendation, holds the host and crew hostage in the studio in an attempt to gain admissions of culpability from those involved. Julia Roberts plays the long suffering producer/director of the show who suddenly finds herself calling the camera shots, if not the gunshots, during the ensuing hostage crisis.
All of this is very well done and well conceived. The show within the movie is suitably annoying with Clooney’s Gates as a decidedly unsympathetic central character. Much of the dialog is focused on the nature of modern stock trading and the algorithms that govern it at a pace that humans simply can’t keep up with. While the standoff develops, there’s a neat “Die Hard” vibe in the single, limited environment of the situation. And, as such, it’s another of those films which, if you suddenly had to leave half way through, would have seemed fantastic.
The problem is that it doesn’t sustain that level of excellence. Rather than indicting the entire investment industry and the system surrounding it, and despite setting up that eventuality, the film turns to a more human motive and villain. After all of the expository dialog on the subject, it seems like a cop-out to have the problem be so mundane. It’s still a plot that’s dependent on the complex nature of modern trading as the source of obfuscation, but that still seems like a lesser plot outcome than the nature and claims of an inherently rigged system that we’ve been exposed to up to that point.
Simultaneously, the film loses one of its key strengths as the action moves away from the confined space. As it shifts from an examination of modern trading to the almost seemless world of modern, portable television production, it goes a little off the tracks as the characters leave the studio. Nothing feels quite as tight from that point on – although it’s starts out sufficiently good that even with that drop it remains an overall positive experience.
The acting from the three leads is excellent with O’Connell not only holding his own against the veterans, but also maintaining one of the better trans-Atlantic accent performances of recent movies. Jodie Foster’s direction is solid (although the very last shot of the movie is gratingly bad) but the screenplay wanders a little too much as the characters go walkabout. It’s still worth watching but it doesn’t live up to the promise of its own halfway point.