2016 has been a good year for pulse-pounding thrillers, and “Money Monster” is the latest example. While not as intense as “10 Cloverfield Lane” or as viciously gruesome as “Green Room,” it certainly gets the adrenaline running thanks to taut direction and terrific acting from a star studded cast. While the handling of the material is at times scattershot and you come out feeling like it could have been better, what ended up on screen makes for solid entertainment.
“Money Monster” opens up on the set of a cable show with the same name which is hosted by wall street financial guru Lee Gates (George Clooney), a man whose ego is bigger than his knowledge of stocks. During what seems like a normal day of filming an episode filled with tips for investors as well as dancing and graphics to keep viewers entertained, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) somehow makes it onto the set, fires a gun in the air and takes Lee hostage. It turns out Kyle invested in a company Lee was especially enthusiastic about, but he ended up losing his entire savings in the process. After making Lee put on a vest filled with plastic explosives which could level a skyscraper, Kyle becomes intent on making him apologize not just to him but millions of investors who lost all their money thanks to the “advice” they received on his show.
Watching this movie reminded me of others which dealt with morally duplicitous human beings who, whether they intended to or not, ran into monsters they created out of their own greed and lack of understanding. Costa-Gavras’ “Mad City” quickly come to mind, but “Money Monster” stands above it because the filmmakers don’t deal with the subject manner in such an obvious way. There’s more going on here than what we see on the surface, and this makes what seems like an average movie one of the more intelligent ones I have seen in a while.
Clooney is perfectly cast as a man whose over confidence has long since gotten the best of him, and he shows a lot of vulnerability as his character of Lee Gates is exposed for all his falsehoods. We watch as his regularly scheduled program is interrupted in one of the worst ways possible, and it forces him to think fast on his feet in order to stay alive. Clooney excels in this kind of role as he is not afraid to show the deep cracks in this man’s façade, and this is even after he is revealed to be a three-time divorcee, the kind we see a lot of in movies.
As Kyle, Jack O’Connell brings the same fierce intensity to this role as he did in “Eden Lake,” “Starred Up” and “Harry Brown” among others. It’s almost exhausting to watch him here as his he starts at such a high pitch of energy to where he can’t allow himself to go slack for very long. This is definitely an actor to keep an eye on.
After suffering through the hideous debacle of “Mother’s Day,” Julia Roberts rebounds here as Lee’s long-suffering director, Patty Fenn. Now Patty may not be the star of the show, but she’s the one who makes it a reality on a daily basis. Roberts doesn’t need to do much to show how much of a veteran Patty is at her job as it involves dealing with dozens of people in a high pressure environment, and she truly shows grace under pressure when Kyle turns everyone’s world upside down. Patty quickly becomes the voice that keeps Lee sane as she continues directing the show which threatens to be more unpredictable than it already it is. Roberts is riveting to watch throughout as she does her best to keep her cool while everyone else loses their own much too easily.
In fact, what’s notable about “Money Monster” is how the female characters are much stronger than their male counterparts. This is the case not just with Patty, but also with Diane Lester (the excellent Caitriona Balfe), a high ranking executive who shows little hesitation in digging through her boss’ dealings in order to get to the truth. Just watch as one of her male bosses attempts to fire her; she doesn’t even break a sweat. Or how about Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend Molly (scene stealer Emily Meade) who has a show-stopping scene where she brutally berates Kyle without any hesitation.
Many of the male characters on the other hand are quick to crumble as their egos cannot handle defeat easily. Some might look at this as a bit sexist, or maybe the movie and its screenplay just exposes the reality that women are stronger because they have more to overcome both in society and in the workplace.
“Money Monster” marks Jodie Foster’s fourth film as a director, and she does a very good job of keeping the tension ratcheted up high throughout. Along with screenwriters Alan Di Fiore, Jamie Linden and “Stakeout’s” Jim Kouf, she takes what looks like a predictable story and messes around with the elements to where second guessing what’s about to happen becomes pointless. At the same time, she does have some trouble balancing out both the dramatic and comedic aspects here, and the more comedic the movie becomes, the more it loses its dramatic power. It’s a strong movie for sure, but you do come out of it thinking it could have been even better.
Still, “Money Monster” is an entertaining thriller that benefits from strong direction and terrific performances from its talented cast. It’s no “Network,” but it does have a lot to say about how money rules our lives and has us making rash decisions for the purpose of staying one step ahead of losing everything. While its ending is a bit too pat, it’s not just another mindless thriller. And in the end, it’s always nice to see wall street take a beating in any movie.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.
* * * ½ out of * * * *