Jodie Foster’s most recent directorial effort after 2011’s The Beaver, Money Monster seeks to combine the hostage dynamics of Dog Day Afternoon with the financial acumen of The Big Short, but lacks the portfolio to pull it off.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a smirking Wall Street whiz who makes a living giving out overblown stock tips on a bells-and-whistles cable show called Money Monster. His brash exhortations comes back to bite — or possibly shoot him — however, when an angry investor, Kyle (Jack O’Connell), turns up in the studio with a gun, a bomb, and a dead man’s switch, demanding answers. What really happened at IBIS Global Capital that wiped $800 million off the stock price? And where is the company’s smug CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West)?
As IBIS’ conflicted PR officer, Diane Lester (Catriona Balfe), struggles with her conscience, Gates lends the inarticulate Kyle his voice; first unwillingly then, increasingly, as benefactor/accomplice. Meanwhile, up in the control booth, Gates’ deeply committed director, Patty (Julia Roberts), keeps the show running — even relaying the occasional shot choice to long-suffering cameraman Lenny (Lenny Venito) down on the floor.
Money Monster’s most pressing dramatic issue is its lack of urgency. Kyle is more upset than unstable; even after a vicious bollocking from his pregnant GF, there’s no sense he might doing anything truly desperate. Meanwhile, he gaggle of cops out in the street, as played by beloved character actors — Giancarlo Esposito (Gus from Breaking Bad), Chris Bauer (the Sheriff from True Blood), and John Ventimigli (Tony’s chef mate from The Sopranos) — feel like such a side-show that they might as well be starring in a TV spin-off of Inside Man.
O’Connell rages, Clooney alternately cowers and crusades — and, of course, manages to be utterly charming while doing it — and Roberts holds it together, but the film itself is neither idea-driven or genre-focused enough to do very much more than exist.
By making the cause of Kyle’s plight fraud — the obvious dramatic choice — rather than say greed, stupidity, and lack of foresight on a grand scale, such as was arguably the actual cause of the recent recession, the film’s script takes the bite out of what could be excoriating Nightcrawler-like satire. Characters talk about quantitative analytics, about money as energy, about being intellectually in love with a stock, but this all feels like lip service in the context of a film that ends with a literal march on Wall Street (with Gates aiding and abetting).
Money Monster is daft, rabble-rousing liberalism targeted at everyone and anyone who might be pissed off with the state of the economy. With little sapient to say on the matter, though, the film is forced to conclude that things might sorta be okay if only the fat cats could be made to admit that the ruthless pursuit of money above all else is wrong. As messages go, it doesn't add up to much.