George Clooney and Julia Roberts in Money Monster
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Money Monster is several different movies rolled into one, all of them mediocre. It stars two of the biggest old school Movie Stars in the world, but only puts them on screen together for about eight minutes. It is directed by a celebrated actress-cum-filmmaker who cannot manage tension but who can frame the sh*t out of her stars. And it features one of the most promising young actors working today and saddles him with a ridiculous accent and barely-there character. Money Monster is exactly the kind of movie studios don’t make anymore, and were it not for the level of talent involved it would have stayed in the reject pile.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a Jim Cramer-esque cable news dancing monkey who is more concerned with his dinner reservations than fact-checking the stock tips he gets to feature on his TV show, and Julia Roberts is his long-suffering director, Patty. They spend most of the movie talking to each other through microphones. Compelling stuff! The movie takes place during a broadcast of Lee’s obnoxious show when it’s hijacked by Kyle (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken), a pissed-off working class mook armed with a gun and a bomb vest who lost everything after following one of Lee’s canned stock tips.
Ten years ago, Money Monster would have been considered entertaining enough, but in 2016 I don’t know why you would sit through it when you can just go watch any one of dozens of Jon Stewart takedowns of the financial sector on Youtube. Jon Stewart mocking the actual Jim Cramer for three minutes is more effective than ninety-eight minutes of Money Monster putting the screws to the fake Jim Cramer. It also doesn’t help that The Big Short just covered similar ground far more astutely, and more entertainingly, too.
As a director, Jodie Foster is not well matched to this material. She struggles with pacing and tone—I was surprised the movie is only an hour and a half because it feels much longer—and she can’t effectively build tension in what is basically just a hostage thriller. At times I was reminded of Spike Lee’s The Inside Man, in which Foster stars, but Money Monster never gets close to that movie’s sense of style or tension. There is one solid sequence of a SWAT team methodically infiltrating the television studio, but besides that one bit, the movie is kind of a slog to get through.
But Foster certainly knows how to frame actors. Everyone looks great, and she does a nice Sorkin-esque walk-and-talk off the top that, for a minute, makes you think you’re about to watch a good movie. Where Money Monster fails, it fails mostly because of the script, which is preposterous. You can tell how watered down the concept got by production because the stock market crash around which all the action revolves—a company called Ibis Clear Capital tanked overnight and wiped out hundreds of millions in investments—is chalked up to a “glitch”. Between the opening sequence in which a camera delves into the digital guts of the internet and the amount of time spent talking about glitches, I fully expected someone to shout “Hack the planet!”
The real crime in Money Monster is wasting all this talent on such a mediocre movie. Roberts is especially wasted, stuck as she is behind a desk for most of the movie. She is so sidelined from the action that it feels like a monumental achievement when she stands up to look out a window. O’Connell fares little better. He gets plenty of monologues but because there’s nothing thematically underpinning Kyle’s anger, so it just becomes repetitive. The stock market is rigged? No! Cable news is more invested in entertainment than information? You don’t say! The whole system is corrupt? Why I never! The Big Short tackles similar ideas in an entertaining way and yet still manages to inspire real outrage. Money Monster doesn’t inspire anything except a continued belief in George Clooney’s handsomeness.