A broke young man takes the host of a finance TV show hostage live on air.
Jodie Foster, 2016
After major corporation IBIS Clear Capital blames an $800 million loss on a computer glitch, TV personality Lee Gates (George Clooney) blithely begins his live TV show with barely a thought to the financial disaster. He and his director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) plan to interview IBIS’s CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) on the air to explain the situation, but Walt cancels at the last minute, having his Chief Communications Officer Diane Lester (Catriona Balfe) replace him. Lee presents his frenetic commerce show with stock tips and twerking dancers, for the moment unaware of how his bad tips effect his viewer. Then Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) makes his way onto the set with a couple of boxes and a gun, hijacking the show. He straps a vest bomb to Lee and demands answers for the IBIS crisis. Seeing this, Diane starts looking for answers in the operations at her own company. She quickly discovers that the loss of money may not be as accidental as everyone originally believed. Meanwhile, Patty runs interference between the police and her show, trying to keep everyone safe while Kyle forces her to keep the show on the air.
Money Monster is a jumble of interesting ideas that doesn’t quite work. It’s too much of a mess – tonally, structurally, and in terms of its narrative – to ever coalesce into a good movie. There is a good movie in this story somewhere, but the movie that was made is not that movie. This is a movie that isn’t quite a thriller because of the jarring comedic moments – it’s too light to be tense, too tense to be funny. Jodie Foster tries to introduce us to characters and ideas well before we have any idea of why we’re seeing them or what purpose they serve in the story – and worse, she cuts away from the building tension in the main narrative to do so, cutting the tension and deflating the story. Rather than increasing the danger, it feels like the movie keeps decreasing it – as Kyle becomes a more rounded and moderately more sympathetic character, we actually feel like there’s less danger to the characters he’s supposedly threatening. To be honest, it’s hard to take Kyle seriously anyway. Despite a really good breakout role for Jack O’Connell, who acts (and, importantly, reacts) his fake-American butt off, Kyle is a bit of a pathetic joke of a character. Even his girlfriend thinks so, in one of the movie’s weirder scenes. The police are largely a “real world” version of bumbling idiots, with poor Giancarlo Esposito reduced to a token police chief. The actors try hard to make the messy script work, creating some really nice scenes. Despite rarely being in the same room, Julia Roberts and George Clooney have a strong connection, and that set is used well. The atmosphere, when it builds, actually works, which is why it’s so disappointing when it’s taken away.
The women are significantly more competent than the men in this film. This would be great if it weren’t for the fact that the film’s climax only features the three men – Kyle, Lee, and Walt – who are at the centre of the film’s action, pushing aside the women who have done all the work. Perhaps there’s a metaphor in there, but it also feels profoundly unfair and a little pointless – again, it’s poor storytelling to take the most interesting focal characters out of peril. The movie keeps touching on very important issues – the 1% vs. the working class, the ways in which modern media works, police brutality – but doing it in ways that feel out of touch and don’t quite work. The most interesting story in this movie is really the B-plot. We watch Catriona Balfe’s Diane essentially be the film’s hero, solve all the problems, and navigate the tricky and sexist world of big business with a growing realisation of how cynical it all is. Nobody understands how the algorithms work, so anyone can manipulate the facts. It’s a far more complex idea than the hostages on live TV concept, which takes some serious suspension of disbelief to believe right from the start. Everyone’s eagerness to help Kyle is so odd – even if you genuinely feel for people, surely helping the guy with a gun to your head shouldn’t be Priority #1. Like, get out of there and donate all your money to charity or something.
Money Monster on IMDb