Thursday, 9 June 2016

Money Monster

Jodie Foster has once again taken to directing with her fourth feature film Money Monster. A part-comedy, part-drama starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, this financial thriller promises a lot, but doesn’t necessarily deliver.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) stars as the financial guru of cable television, on his show ‘Money Monster’. During a live filming, his show is ambushed by Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who holds the studio at gunpoint, demanding that they don’t cut the live feed. Lee is strapped into an explosive vest as Kyle demands to know why IBIS Clear Capital, a company that Lee had personally recommended as “safer than your savings account”, had just lost $800 million in stock value due to a “glitch” in its trading algorithm. In what will surely be the worst day of show director Patty Fenn’s (Julia Roberts) professional career, those inside the studio struggle to take control of the situation and meet Kyle’s demands before he sets off the vest.

The film opens with a sequence that brings together the intense critiques of journalism and media from films like The China Syndrome and Network, with the cha-ching of recent financial satire films The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short. As such it’s difficult from the get-go to see how Money Monster is going to find its own path. The film effectively has two interweaved acts; one following the events that take place in the studio, and one on the reactive events that occur outside. The former scenes work really well, there’s a palpable tension as Patty tries to use her directorial skills to control the situation, where Lee prefers to cut through it with his blunt sarcasm and asides. However as soon as we cut away to the exterior focus, the manipulative side of the film rears its ugly head and starts to throw all sorts of moral messages at us.

The film pleads with us to pick an antagonist; is it the guy with the gun, Kyle? Is it the arrogant opportunist, Lee? Is it Wall Street? It’s trying to find a black and white answer to a very murky question. As the film rolls on, we’re placed in a tense race to either see the rapidly escalating situation put under control, or find out who’s responsible for the system ‘glitch' - the answer to which reveals itself too soon thanks to some blatantly-foreshadowing dialogue: ’I got you some chocolate….from Switzerland’ *dun dun duuuuun*.

A more interesting premise, which thankfully doesn’t get put under the moral magnifying glass like so much of Money Monster, is the battle to humanise Lee Gates in the ninety-minute running time, a man so initially out of touch with the world that he has a gold-embroidered dancing troupe to help him announce the stocks to keep an eye on...that’s showbiz folks. It’s very easy to place all the blame for Kyle’s situation on Lee, and it’s certainly partly the fault of his over-the-top spruiking, but as more is revealed and we get a better idea of the bigger picture, Lee starts to look less devious, and more like a charming village idiot, who actually takes some responsibility for his actions. Although to be fair that could be more to do with George Clooney’s performance, I hear he’s irresistible.

We also get a well-developed performance from Julia Roberts, who I must admit I’ve struggled to watch in many previous roles. Here however, she has just the right amount of sass to shoot down Lee’s remarks, a nuanced understanding of how to approach the situation and the occasional hint that, like everybody else in the studio, she’s quaking in her boots. Jack O’Connell also steps up his game from his performance in Angelina Jolie’s Unwatchable Unbroken and we get the invaluable pleasure to see Giancarlo Esposito on screen again, in what sadly becomes a rather banal cop role. What’s more, for the roles outside of the studio, the underwhelmment (which should definitely be a word) is par for the course. As soon as we leave the tense studio environment, be it for a quick cutaway or for the path that the story takes, the film becomes too focused on delivering a message, and loses the satirical-thriller element that sets it apart from whatever else is playing this weekend.

Money Monster does well to recognise its strengths, namely Clooney, Roberts and the satire/thriller blend. However, all too often it oversteps its bounds and starts to preach its message without the finesse required, or the content to back it up.

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