2016, R, 98 min. Directed by Jodie Foster. Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 20, 2016
There’s a fine line between knowing which way the wind is blowing, and rank opportunism. The creative people behind the anti-capitalist-ish Money Monster may indeed have sincere intentions, but what comes across onscreen feels like a – crass? or just savvy? and how far removed from savvy is cynical? – capitalization of a moment in American history, in which we’re all pretty vaguely yet righteously pissed off: at Wall Street, cable news, the one-percent, lax government regulation, what have you. These fucking haves. I wonder what it would look like if the have-nots produced Money Monster instead.
Where’s Paddy Chayefsky when you need him? (Long dead, though we still look to him as the standard-bearer for smart sociopolitical agitation in cinema.) Money Monster steals looks from Chayefsky’s Network, although the former’s depiction of a buffoonish cable-news show is too plausible to qualify as satire. Clooney plays Lee Gates, host of the titular show and predictor of “hot stocks.” When one of his investment tips proves ruinous, a disgruntled, newly bankrupted viewer named Kyle (O’Connell) takes Gates hostage on-air. Gates is strapped into a vest rigged with explosives; meanwhile, at Kyle’s insistence, the producer (Roberts) continues on with the show, coaching Gates in his earpiece, nudging camera one to move in for a close-up, and spurring her reporters to investigate what went wrong with this particular stock. Outside the studio: a media circus, viewers titillated by real life packaged like a reality show, and a corny good cop/bad cop routine.
As an actor Jodie Foster has been in plenty of thrillers, but it’s her first foray into the genre as a director. The cop stuff is goofy, but the hum of the studio at work feels authentic, and she has a sure hand with the mounting tension inside this closed space – especially in an effective cross-cutting between the ramp-up to showtime and Kyle’s infiltration of the set. While the Occupy Wall Street rage supposedly fueling this thing is flimsy, what’s left is still solidly entertaining.