In director Jodie Foster’s Money Monster, a pissed off gunman, played by Jack O’Connell, holds the production of a television show hostage, believing that the host, played by George Clooney, is personally responsible for his bad misfortune. If this sounds like a fine premise for a tense thriller, you’re absolutely right – and Money Monster mostly is that.
Unfortunately, that same description doesn’t entirely tell the film’s story. After all, the television show in question is all about day trading, and has the gunman pointing fingers at corruption within the stock market system and the media. Of course, this is a major controversy that exists not just in fiction but in reality, and as a result, because of the atmosphere in which Money Monster is being released, the full premise comes with expectations of social commentary, and call-to-action rhetoric. It’s these teeth, however, that the movie completely lacks, and so rather than being a taut thriller that feels prescient, smart and like it has something to say, it’s more just a taut thriller that you’ll find yourself vaguely remembering eight years from now as being “pretty good.”
Money Monster wouldn’t be so blamable for its lack of socially conscious follow-through if it didn’t set everything up so perfectly on a tee. As financial host Lee Gates, George Clooney is all about Jim Cramer-esque buffoonery, and feels built up to demonstrate the dangerous hyperbole that comes with mixing entertainment and financial advice – but any and all commentary in that area is exposed and basically fizzles before the end of the first half of the movie. Furthermore, you can’t help but feel the fact that the movie exists in the shadow of director Adam McKay’s The Big Short, which used real people, dates, stats and company names to show how much the system is screwing people. Money Monster, meanwhile, boils it all down to a fictional singular character representation of the system, played by Dominic West, and that decision helps make the film feel as though it’s playing with Nerf guns. And although it’s strange to accuse a movie of not having an agenda, Money Monster legitimately suffers just because it seems deaf and blind to the current financial climate.
I call the financial realm setting of Money Monster unfortunate because it’s baggage that undercuts what is otherwise a well-constructed, well-acted thriller that manages to get you invested in all of its characters – even while you find yourself judging them. It’s is unquestionably the most dynamic work we’ve seen from Jodie Foster as a director, as it feels like she took very strict notes and learned some really great lessons watching Spike Lee work while making Inside Man. An interesting takeaway from the movie is that it demonstrates Foster as a viable potential candidate for some bigger studio projects – and Hollywood most certainly could use more female filmmakers in this department.
While Foster herself doesn’t act in the film, she is fully represented in Julia Roberts’ Patty Fenn – the director of the titular financial show who is working behind the scenes to make sure everyone stays alive and is unquestionably the story’s moral center. Joined by George Clooney and Jack O’Connell, there is a triumvirate of solid performances delivered because there are full arcs to navigate and characters to be invested in. It’s well-structured and often surprising, and has surprisingly smart timing and levity that keeps the tone the fun kind of engaging while the movie is consistently the tense kind of engaging. You do beg for it to be just a bit more than entertainment, but it is, at the very least, that.
Just because of the stage it exists on, as a nationally-released studio feature from politically-conscious people, Money Monster feels like it should have the responsibility of being more than it actually is, and is brought down now by the fact that it’s not. But one can argue that it will provide the movie with a certain timelessness that will age it well. At the very least, it should certainly be enjoyed with the proper level of expectations.