Going into Money Monster, I had some worries. Julia Roberts' presence in a film hasn't boded well for a while now, and Jodie Foster's work directing movies has been hit or miss, (hit: Home for the Holidays; miss: The Beaver). But about 15 minutes in I stopped worrying. The movie works as both an old fashioned Dog Day Afternoon type siege thriller, and as a serious indictment of American financial institutions.
George Clooney stars as Les Gates, a Jim Cramer-esque host of a financial show in which he gives investment tips and projections. It's a fast and loose show, where the tips are presented as things to take seriously, even though the surrounding show is anything but.
Julia Roberts is Patty Fenn, the show's director. She and Gates have worked together long enough to have a familiar shorthand as she is a constant presence in his earpiece. They've got a rapport, but don't share enough affection to keep her from taking another job away from the "emotionally stunted 7-year-old" host.
As they work on their last show together, a delivery guy wanders onto the live set. Thinking it's one of Gates's many on-air stunts, Fenn keeps the camera on him.
Until he whips out a gun and a vest bomb.
He's Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), a disgruntled working-class New Yorker who lost all of his savings based on a stock tip given by Gates a week before. The stock in question, belonging to a company called Ibis Clear Capital, somehow tanked, losing 800 million dollars in a single day. The stock's plummet has been blamed on a computer "glitch," as if that should ever be an acceptable excuse for the loss of millions of dollars. Kyle rightfully calls bullshit and demands that the company CEO (Dominic West), and Gates fess up to what's really going on.
All of this takes place during the live broadcast, as demanded by Kyle, but the film, while concentrated in the TV studio, also ventures out into the outside world of the viewers to an audience that is way more on Kyle's side than the side of the moneyed. Kyle's rantings about the system being rigged, and the rich taking advantage of the 99% don't sound that crazy. Take away that gun, and he could be Bernie Sanders.
The British O'Connell is terrific as Kyle, with an accent that, to my West Coast ears, sounds right, and a world-weariness that seems to seep from his pores. Clooney does both slick and terrified very well, but more importantly, knows to take his usual charm down a notch in order to let his fellow cast shine.
And I've got to say, this is the most impressed I've been with Roberts in a long time. She does the majority of her role sitting in a chair while talking to someone in another room. Because she's in close-up so often she, too, has to tame it down a little, (no reliance on a giant smile here), and the restraint is perfect for a character who must maintain complete control of the situation she's been thrown into.
The financial crisis of 2007-08 led to the criminal prosecution of...one guy. The only real indictments America seems to be getting are coming from Hollywood, in the form of movies, like this and last year's The Big Short, that try to shed a light on the whole crooked mess. It's almost a shame Money Monster is as entertaining as it is, as the suspense and fun of watching it can make you forget that what it's actually about is very real, very depressing, and very maddening.