“Money Monster” is director Jodie Foster’s first feature since the 2011 drama “The Beaver”. Which element of that film was considered more controversial is still up for debate: Mel Gibson’s character or the actual beaver puppet. Foster turns to more commercial fare for “Money Monster”, admitting that because “it’s a genre film [from] a mainstream studio” it’s much “different” than the other movies she’s made.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the arrogant host of the popular finance show, “Money Monster”, on the fictional Financial News Network. Gates is clearly based on CNBC’s Jim Cramer, the high-energy host of “Mad Money”. Like Cramer, Gates uses props, sound effects, wacky graphics, video clips and a quick wit in his analysis of the daily stock market activity and in interviews with the movers and shakers of the business world.
But Gates even takes things further, including a show-opening production number, complete with a gold top hat and back-up dancers. A little awkward and uncomfortable to watch? Yes. Why does Gates do it? As a typical twenty-something Wall Street guy says while watching the show in a bar, “I like when he has the strippers.” It’s all about the ratings.
Julia Roberts teams with Clooney for the fourth time, here as “Money Monster” show producer and director Patty Fenn. Minutes into Friday afternoon’s live show, a regular viewer and follower of Gates’ advice, posing as a delivery guy, walks onto the set, fires a gun, and forces Gates to put on a vest strapped with explosives. And if Kyle Budwell’s thumb comes-off the detonator (he’s played by “Unbroken”‘s Jack O’Connell) the bomb blast will kill everyone in the studio. The disgruntled and desperate investor just lost all his money on a Gates “sure thing” stock pick.
Through Gates’s earpiece, Fenn must coach the host through this life-and-death situation, telling him to “just breathe” after he predicts “I’m gonna f***ing die.” And there are plenty of f-bombs tossed-around by Gates, Budwell and others as the hostage situation unfolds. The bill from the FCC when it was all over must have been incredible.
Of course, if a live hostage event like this did happen in real-life, it’d immediately become must-watch TV. Foster does a good job of not only showing that development within the story, but creating that feeling for those in the theater. Yes, it’s not difficult to see where things are going, but it’s how we get there that keeps “Money Monster” effectively gripping. The script takes some unexpected swerves, including a few surprises in the climax that leave a nice, gritty aftertaste. And for a film that plays-out in real-time, and with more than half of that time spent in one location (the TV studio), it’s a major accomplishment that things never drag.
“Money Monster” is a details movie, from the “TV tricks” Gates uses to try to prevent Budwell from pulling the trigger, Budwell’s unpredictable responses, and Fenn directing Gates, the NYPD and others, making critical decisions on the fly, as the situation plays out. In this “What If” situation, Gates isn’t afraid to admit his faults, or take a bullet (both figuratively and possibly literally) in front of the tens of millions of people watching. He sticks to his brash persona even in crisis, as his investment program turns into Reality TV.
While these aren’t career-best performances from Clooney and Roberts, what they do quite well is make you forget early on that you’re watching two of the biggest movie stars in the world playing a host and director/producer. Not an easy task. Foster chooses to keep the focus on the three main characters. There is a lack of substance and detail in the actual stock decline/world of finance storyline. This is NOT “The Big Short” with the addition of a mad gunman. Instead, “Money Monster” is a tense, yet light-on-its-feet, modern thriller that’s absolutely worth your investment.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Money Monster” gets a B+.
Running Time: 98 min.