Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Caitriona Balfe, Dominic West
Rated R for Language Throughout, Some Sexuality and Brief Violence
There are times when "Money Monster" seems almost like wish-fulfillment. With Wall Street bankers and CEOs of multi-national conglomerates gambling our money away with impunity, looking for every legal loophole to take every last penny out of our paychecks that they can (while paying nothing in taxes themselves) and using the wretched Citizens United decision to keep doing it, it's hard not to feel impotent at the hands of Big Business and the 1%. So when a guy decides to do something about it, it's hard not to feel a vicarious sense of justice. Even if what he's doing is illegal.
Four weeks ago, finance whiz and TV host Lee Gates (Clooney) encouraged his viewers that buying stock in the recently public IBIS Global Capital was a sure thing. Yesterday, a glitch caused the company to lose $800 million in one afternoon. Lee and his producer Patty Fenn (Roberts) have planned to interview IBIS CEO Walt Camby (West), but he's nowhere to be found. In his place is his public relations spokesperson Diane Lester (Balfe). While they're figuring out what to do before the show goes live, a man by the name of Kyle Budwell (O'Connell) comes onstage brandishing a gun and puts Lee in a suicide vest. He wants answers, and now Lee and Patty will have to find a way to keep Kyle from doing anything rash while they search for the truth.
Jodie Foster clearly has an ax to grind (doesn't everyone when it comes to the sleazy behavior of these guys?) and she has her fangs sharpened appropriately. While most of her ammunition goes towards Walt Camby, she also opens fire at social media, police impulsiveness, and collusion between megacorporations and the "infotainments" that pass as news. Most of the these barbs are on-target, but they feel shoe-horned in. Had Foster wedded them into the plot better and given them a little more room to breathe, they would be more effective.
It's rare that an actor's off-screen behavior can have an effect on the audience's ability to buy a character, but that's what happens with Clooney's Lee Gates. Clooney is well-known for his liberal beliefs (and has chosen his films accordingly), so seeing him play a P.T. Barnum-like puppet of Wall Street is never convincing. Once Kyle enters the picture, he returns to his usual crusader persona, but this isn't one of his best performances. It's not that he can't play a conservative (his role in "The Peacemaker" is probably his best work), but he needs the right part, and Lee Gates isn't it. Julia Roberts is as welcome as ever, providing a calming influence in the plot while standing in for us in the investigation aspect of the story. The standouts are the newcomers: Jack O'Connell and Caitriona Balfe. As the desperate criminal and the spokeswoman who's beginning to realize that she's been sold out, they're excellent.
This is the fourth film directed by Jodie Foster. I haven't seen any of the other films that she has directed ("Little Man Tate," "Home for the Holidays," and "The Beaver"), but I will soon. She's a good storyteller and has a gift for sleight-of-hand. There's nothing like in "Seven" or "Rounding First" to be found here, but there are times when Foster plays our expectations against us. What we think is going to happen occasionally takes a left turn into something else. To give a point of reference, I thought a lot of "Inside Man" while watching this movie (which, perhaps ironically, also starred Foster).
"Money Monster" isn't a great movie, but it does what it sets out to do: provide an entertaining, suspenseful 90+ minutes.