Apparently starring in the suspenseful business thriller Inside Man inspired actor/director Jodie Foster, and years later when the script for Money Monster came along she jumped, but this time to be behind the camera, directing another taut, effect thriller. Money Monster revolves around TV investment celebrity Lee Gates (George Clooney), who is held hostage on the air by distraught loser Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who has invested every penny he owned in IBIS Global Capital, just to have the firm drop precipitously and lose $800 million in market cap over a few hours due to what the company insists is a “programming glitch”.
Kyle wants answers. He wants to expose the system and how rich men like Gates manipulate the markets, ensuring that they always make a profit even as the little guy suffers and sometimes loses everything. But there’s more going on behind the camera, all cynically stage-managed by the TV show’s director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts).
Still, $800 million. How can that just vanish due to a “glitch” in some software? The answer lies with IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West), but he’s jetting around the world in his private jet and even people inside IBIS itself, notably PR head Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe), can’t track him down to get more information on the collapse of the company’s stock.
Is the truth going to come out, or is the crazed, on-the-edge Kyle going to completely lose it and shoot Gates on live TV, a final dramatic expression of his anger and helplessness regarding his financial ruin?
Tautly directed by Foster, Money Monster is an entertaining thriller that manages to elevate some of its characters above one-dimensional and offers some interesting twists, but ultimately delivers a story that’s just another version of the anti-big-business trope. CEO Camby (West) is not one of these more complex characters and as his misdeeds come out in public, he’s predictably paraded around as All That’s Wrong with Capitalism.
There’s also a huge ethical facet to the film that’s deftly ignored, the perhaps Machiavellian question of whether the end (his exposure) justifies the means (Kyle threatening the life of the entire Money Monster TV show’s production team). Is Kyle a hero for exposing the evils of big business, or a rube who invested poorly trusting the advice of a TV personality, without understanding and acknowledging the risk of any company stock acquisition and his own responsibility for that investment?
Foster is also a director who enjoys exploring the Rear Window-esque mirror of the intimate, voyeuristic relationship between the film and we, the viewers, something that adds a provocative depth to the story as we see various groups around New York City and the world watching and reacting to the unfolding drama with Gates and Budwell. Are we culpable as part of the system, seeking entertainment and deluding ourselves that it therefore is also valuable information?
The standout performance in the film is unquestionably Jack O’Connell, who steals every scene as the angry, distraught Kyle Budwell. He far outshines Clooney, who delivers yet another of his relaxed, non-emotive performances, and Roberts, who can’t seem to be able to decide about her feelings towards Gates.
Money Monster is a solid 98 minutes of taut, suspenseful entertainment with an R rating for language and suspense. Not appropriate for children, it’s an excellent film for older filmgoers, and indeed, the screening I attended could have been sponsored by AARP. But don’t let that stop you from going and enjoying a solid story well told.