Movie review: In ‘Money Monster,’ Roberts and Clooney cash in
George Clooney. Julia Roberts. The pedigree behind the set-in-real-time thriller “Money Monster” is reason enough to see the movie. And if those two megawatt stars don’t get your butt to the theater, then maybe this will: Jodie Foster is calling the shots behind the camera in her fourth feature as director. That’s a talented trifecta out of the gate. But there’s more.
The movie, like last year’s “99 Homes” and “The Big Short,” has an identifiable appeal as it shines a light on corporate greed and the widening gap between rich and poor. Clooney plays “Wizard of Wall Street” Lee Gates, the charismatic and handsome television host of a “Mad Money”-like finance show called “Money Monster.” A disgruntled viewer (“Unbroken’s” Jack O’Connell), who lost his life savings because he took Lee’s advice, takes the suave host hostage during a live broadcast. With Lee forced to wear an explosive vest, ace producer Patty Fenn (Roberts) hustles to prevent tragedy — while also keeping the cameras rolling for the millions of viewers to see if Lee will get blown to smithereens.
At first, the script — written by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf — seems contrived and implausible because (no spoilers) at some point in real-life one of the snipers would have landed a kill shot on O’Connell’s Kyle Budwell. And does it really just take mere seconds to locate an unknown “quant” (quantitative analyst) in Seoul, Korea? Well, bizarre is the new normal these days — after all, no one thought Donald Trump could be president.
You’ll forgive Foster and the movie’s implausibilities because it’s so darn smart in indicting our seemingly insatiable appetite for reality TV. The movie plays out in real-time, which creates needed urgency because Foster falls short in building suspense. I didn’t for a minute buy the danger.
The excellent supporting cast includes “The Wire’s” Dominic Cooper as the smarmy chief executive of IBIS Clear Capital, the investment house that Lee shilled on the show and in which Kyle invested the $60,000 he lost. The movie opens with news of a computer glitch at IBIS that causes an $800 million loss. That crash sends Kyle over the edge.
Caitriona Balfe (“Outlander”) is terrific as Diane Lester, the only IBIS exec with a conscience. Rounding out the cast are Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”) as a New York police captain; Lenny Venito as the cameraman who never stops rolling; and Christopher Denham, playing a sort-of bumbling producer, offers welcome bits of comic relief. Keep an eye on Emily Meade. As Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend, she makes the most out of a scene in which she gives him a biting verbal smack down.
The emotional center of the movie is the friendship and mutual admiration between Lee and Patty. “Just point the camera in my direction and we’ll figure it out together,” he tells her before the show starts. They complete each other. And, Clooney and Roberts are naturals — beyond bankable. Clooney — a delightful dancing fool in some scenes — has that impenetrable confidence that he built his career on, but also the ability to dial down the swagger and turn up the vulnerability. For her part, which is mostly done from the studio’s control room, Roberts’ character is part sleuth (trying to figure out how IBIS lost the $800 million) and the also the in-control voice in Lee’s ear. Foster is lucky to have them — and so are we.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Jack O’Connell, George Clooney, Julia Roberts.
(R strong language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence)