If perhaps absurd and unsubtle to a fault, Jodie Foster’s latest directorial effort takes fire at contemporary capitalism’s villains with sledgehammer force, aided by a game trio of performers.
Charismatic TV financial guru Lee Gates (George Clooney) finds himself held hostage by a lone gunman (Jack O’Connell) in the middle of a broadcast. The man is disgruntled at a recent financial loss stemming from one of his on-air tips and fits Gates with an explosive vest in revenge. As the authorities mount a mission to extract Gates by any means necessary, Gates’ director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) looks on, calmly trying to guide him to safety.
Money Monster is best thought of as the product of a threesome between Network, Phone Booth and The Big Short; it’s a trenchant media satire, an expectation-defying, white-knuckle thriller, and a takedown of financial corruption all rolled into one.
It’s fair to say that Foster’s film lacks the canny intelligence of the former and latter films, but nevertheless successfully channels its righteous anger onto a broader genre template, all while peppering proceedings with lashings of unexpected gallows humour.
Crucially, the script also avoids a few near-divergences into overt sentiment and even straight-up Hollywood cheese; on at least two occasions, an out for Gates is hilariously subverted at the last minute, proving the pic more acutely aware of genre formula than it might first appear.
The pic is certainly less-assured in its third act when it digs in deep with political hand-wringing and scrambles for a solution, but it never falls below the line of wholly compelling thanks to its riveting performances. Clooney, an easy natural for a role like this, is as reliably magnetic as expected, while Roberts turns in some of her sturdiest and most understated work in years, and rising star O’Connell is the ball of righteous rage that he absolutely needs to be.
To criticise Money Monster for being over-the-top is to somewhat miss the point; after all, this is a story about a man making a desperate call to the masses on live TV, so anything less than explosively absolute rhetoric wouldn’t seem particularly plausible either.
It may not offer up a particularly well-rounded examination of the circumstances that can allow such patent corruption to take place, but it substitutes this for sharp thriller shenanigans and rock solid character work. If you’re a fan of the cast and/or director, don’t miss it.
Money Monster is in cinemas now