Jodie Foster is no stranger to hostage thrillers. Having dealt with a band of thugs breaking into her home in Panic Room and losing her daughter on a plane mid-flight in Flightplan, Foster has dealt with the anguish and adrenaline of a ticking clock; and a ticking bomb. So it’s not a stretch to see her step behind the camera to recreate that sense of dread and fear that comes with fighting for your life. Though she has yet to deal with this type of subject matter as a director, Foster understands the beats and the pace that go along with this type of movie. She knows how to build tension, unravel a mystery, and remain taut while building characters into believable, relatable creatures. With that said, she’s still stepping a little out of her comfort zone with Money Monster. Not only is it the first time she’s directing a major studio thriller, but, her online directorial efforts aside, it’s the first time she’s gone behind the scenes without also being in front of the camera. So how well does she handle the production from a strictly directorial stance?
From a writer’s standpoint, Money Monster is as generic as they come. Someone gets angry at being slighted by the system and decides the only way to be heard is to take someone (or many someone’s) hostage to make his or her case. It’s been done in films like Mad City and John Q, so what’s the purpose of continuing to do so? Because this sub-genre speaks to the audience in ways other stories can’t — by allowing writers and filmmakers to dive into political topics head on and discuss what may be wrong with the government, the policies they put in place and the world at large. Sure there are other ways to handle this type of story, but by utilizing this method, it personalizes the film, asking, what if it was you in this situation? Would you go as far as this person to seek justice by putting society, government and/or the world on trial?
Money Monster takes these questions into the world of stocks and trading, and digs into the oily tactics used to make some people rich while letting innocent shareholders holding the bag when the company takes a major hit. George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, an over-the-top stocks reporter that dances and plays and smugs his way through a supposedly popular cable news network style show called, you guessed it, Money Monster. Lee reports on what is on the surface very dry material (and a subject that goes straight over a lot of people’s heads) in an amusing and fanciful way. The casting here is perfect, as Clooney basically does what Clooney does, and that’s have fun in his haughty, lighthearted way. He’s a bit of a loose cannon, exasperating his show’s director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) by throwing curveballs at her and her team in the production booth by going off script, doing whatever it is he feels like in the moment. The two have a nice, love-hate relationship — they love each other for their obvious talent, but hate each other for their inherent perfectionism. They are best friends who can’t stand each other and the dynamic is as fun as it was in the Ocean’s series.
During a live taping of Lee’s newest episode, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) uses his job as a delivery driver to infiltrate the studio. Now either this particular studio receives a lot of packages on a daily basis or the security is so lax they’ll allow just about anyone with a uniform too pass through, but the kid gets in with nary a protest. He’s a new face and I found it odd that the guards hardly even take notice of him. A studio that produces the type of high-profile show this one claims to be would conceivably have much tighter security — at least I hope it would. Regardless, I had to suspend my disbelief a little to even make the plot of the movie work. Fortunately, because of Clooney and Roberts, I was able to write it off as the studio receiving a lot of packages from the company Kyle works for, and they just assume he’s the new guy (which they do in the film… it still doesn’t sit right). But then what do they say? If you want to get into someplace you’re not supposed to be, just walk with the confidence of someone that is supposed to be there. That’s what Kyle does as he finds himself on set, waiting for the perfect time to interrupt the show.
After Kyle pulls a gun on Lee and forces him to put on a bomb vest, he forces Patty to remain live so that he can find out the truth behind the plummeting stock of a company that lost nearly 800 million dollars over night, $60,000 of which Kyle had invested. This opens the door wide open for a discussion on how companies and shareholders make money and how the system actually works to benefit the traders and the companies, but not necessarily the middle to lower income people who have to scrape by to make ends meet. Though I don’t understand a whole lot about how the stock market works, I don’t think the writers went as far as they could to show or prove how corrupt the system can be, instead dumbing down a lot of the politics and the techno-babble to focus more on personal relationships.
The object of Kyle’s ire is Walt Camby (Dominic West), the CEO of the company in question. Kyle seeks nothing but real, honest answers, not some talking points spin put together to distract the public from what’s truly going on. As you may have guessed, when the story gets picked up by other talking heads on other networks, it becomes a massive story. And as the movie unfolds, and we learn more about how the company lost all of that money, we learn a little more about who Kyle is and why he felt this was the only way to get people to listen to him and try to fix the problem. The last act does get a little loose with its believability, but stays on point with the plot, tying up whatever loose ends it needs to while staying as light and formulaic as it can. Walt Camby doesn’t make for the best of villains, either; nothing against West (who does a fine job as the arrogant, smarmy CEO), but the character is very one-note and doesn’t have the gravitas to pull off the energy needed to wrap the story up in the way the filmmakers intended.
But with Foster behind the wheel, she’s able to keep the movie going at a quick pace, drive the characters to a decent conclusion and give the audience what it wants when coming to a movie like this — constant thrills, some decent character developments, a few laughs (mostly from the supporting cast, though nothing funnier than watching Lee beg for the public to help save his life by turning the stock of the company around, only to watch it continue to drop) and a smart way of looking at not only how the system in America ticks, but how the general public deals with news stories in a world of constant movement and twenty-four hour news — where a story can become a hot topic in a split second and be forgotten just as quickly.
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The Angry Birds Movie and Nice Guys. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.