Film Review: 'Money Monster'

George Clooney plays a bombastic TV host, and is a great lead for a solidly entertaining film. (Tri Star Pictures)

George Clooney plays a bombastic TV host, and is a great lead for a solidly entertaining film. (Tri Star Pictures)

★★1/2

The American public's frustration with Wall Street and financial overlords has grown over the years, and the Jodie Foster-directed stock market drama Money Monster is a clear attempt to capitalize on the times. With George Clooney and Julia Roberts, the headlining talent alone is enough to warrant a viewing, but viewers are in for a nice surprise when what initially shapes up to be a sort of comedic stock market drama (think The Big Short or The Wolf of Wall Street) quickly turns into a captivating hostage situation. It does lose some steam in a comparatively boring final act, but is lifted enough by a stronger first half to make Money Monster worth a look.

Clooney plays Wall Street wiz and big TV personality Lee Gates, who hosts his own titular financial advice broadcast (think CNBC's On the Money crossed with a morning zoo radio show), with his producer Patty (Roberts) calling the shots in the control room. Things go awry when disgruntled viewer slash rookie investor Kyle (Jack O'Connell) invests $60,000 (!) in IBIS, a fictional Fortune 500 company, after heeding Gates' advice. However, what seemed to be a sure bet blows up in his face when the company loses $800 million overnight. The explanation? A technical glitch in the stock market, an algorithmic error that gives no answers as to where all the money went.

(Tri Star Pictures)

(Tri Star Pictures)

With his life rapidly spiraling downward, Kyle storms into Gates' studio mid-broadcast with a gun and a bomb vest, taking Gates and his colleagues hostage live on the air. Ever the showman, Kyle has Gates wear the bomb vest, demanding the cameras to keep rolling and the show to keep broadcasting in order for Gates to stay alive. With the world watching the hostage situation unfold live, Gates and Patty try to wiggle out of an incredibly tight spot - and in doing so, put the pieces together to form what could be a giant corporate conspiracy.

With IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) - the presumed man with all the answers - nowhere to be found, Kyle grows ever more irate, with the looming threat of his thumb coming off the detonator keeping everyone on high alert - a point that Foster pounds home to maximize the gravity of the situation. Gratefully, Money Monster avoids genre pratfalls with healthy amount of curveball plot points, especially in moments when Gates proposes a compromise, only to see his plan blow up in his face. Surprising without being too unbelievable, they keep Money Monster from being a carbon copy of other hostage thriller films and make the spectacle a treat to follow.

(Tri Star Pictures)

(Tri Star Pictures)

For as crazy as Kyle seems, he echoes a lot of the complaints the larger American public have with Wall Street: a lack of accountability, a failure to prosecute white collar criminals, and accusations of corruption. Although Kyle's threats are somewhat misplaced - he's got a TV guy in the bomb vest, not an actual banker - his ideas aren't too far off base for a good amount of people. The system cost him all of his money, although he has no one but himself to blame for investing all of his money in the first place. In a way, Money Monster stirs up a moderate amount of pity for Kyle, and it speaks to the directorial talents of Foster to frame him in such a way where even a modicum of sympathy for the criminal is possible.

The film is further lifted by performances from Caitriona Balfe, who plays the level-headed CCO of IBIS, and Giancarlo Espositio, who plays a tough and fast-thinking police chief. It's a solid acting core that lifts Money Monster from a cookie-cutter thriller to smart, intriguing, and even timely film, although the film does lose some of its magic in the final scenes when the hostage situation gets taken outside. Even so, contrary to dumping all of your life savings into IBIS, spending $12 to see Money Monster might be a wise investment.

Rated R. 98 minutes.

Written by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore & Jim Kouf (screenplay), and Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf (story).

Directed by Jodie Foster.

Starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

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© 2015 Rex J. Lindeman.   All rights reserved.   |   (760) 274-5948   |   rexlindeman@gmail.com

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