The media – especially those that are not carefully controlled by the shadowy money-wielding forces – constantly reminds us that we live in a world of corporations that exercise control over many things, with the world of finance basically being their playground. It is no wonder that the little man will occasionally get fed up from all the manipulation – and no wonder that we now witness numerous daily protests and even wide-spread movements like the global Occupy movement, which are birthed and fuelled by the sense of injustice and rage. This is exactly the train that Money Monster, the newly released American thriller, directed by Jodie Foster, decided to ride – by choosing the set of a popular daily finance advice show with the centre-stage cast led by an overbearing host, a well-put together female producer to both balance the male yin with some female yang and to be the much needed voice of reason, along with a desperate, gun-wielding representative of all little men and women out there, who just got sucked into the corrupt world of finance and then got spit out, unceremoniously, with nothing left whatsover.
The corrupt world of American finance has been the core subject of many films prior to Money Monster, and like many of its predecessors, this thriller also chooses Wall Street to represent the core of all evil. Most of the film takes place on a set of a flashy TV show called ‘Money Moster’, where the obnoxious host Lee Gates (George Clooney) pans out his daily finance advice to the viewers while pulling all sorts of cheesy entertainment numbers, with the show’s producer Penny Fenn (Julia Roberts) trying her best to keep him in check. During a report about a major crash of stocks for a company that Gates has singled out before and endorsed, the set is invaded by Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who lost all of his savings on a bad investment tip from Gates; he marches in mid-filming, armed with a gun, forcing Gates to put on an explosive-equipped vest while demanding answers. Somewhere around the edges, we also follow the efforts of NYPD, led by Captain Powell (Giancarlo Esposito), and special forces who are trying to find their way into the now closed-off studio, and the efforts of a PR agent (Cautriona Balfe) of the fallen company in question who is also trying to find her missing-in-action CEO (Dominic West) who has all the answers – past the see-through weak excuse that billions were lost due to a computer glitch.
The film has a quick rhythm that keeps the story dynamically moving without any significant stops, but with plenty of laughter-inducing moments, some stemming from Gates’ self-mockery and from several minor characters that mainly serve for the laughs. But almost all the laughs that this film delivers are laced with cynicism – the audience will laugh at the (sad) reality of it all. The reality of situations and reactions that is present is Money Monster‘s strongest point, and it is especially found in the reactions of “normal people” – instead of taking the typical grand Hollywood story path, the pregnant girlfriend will not comfort and try to tame the desperate guy with the gun, but she will scream at him with all the rage that she can muster, even telling him to pull the trigger on himself – something that works to induce more sympathy for the guy, but also something that could actually happen. When Gates tries to incite some sympathy from the audience, to make them buy stocks to “save his life”, the price actually plummets even further. Why would the human kind come together and sacrifice anything for the sleazy TV guy, who is the walking ‘Money Monster’? The same ‘this is exactly how it would happen if’ moment follows when we take the walk through the streets of Manhattan with the two protagonists, following a myriad of realistic reactions from the passers-by. In terms of this, the seasoned writers Jim Kouf, Alan DiFiore and Jamie Linden did a great job.
Besides the established writers, Money Monster also boasts with an all-star cast; their performances were indeed quite stellar, even though Clooney felt surprisingly flat at first – though he made up for it later in the film. Roberts did a solid job portraying the calm and dedicated producer, while O’Connell gave a great performance as Kyle Budwell. The star that shined the most is that of Jodie Foster, who more than anything else proved that she has plenty of directorial chops to handle this sort of production.
All in all, Money Monster is a solid thriller, but given the chosen topic, the film could have delved in deeper – this is no Wolf of Wall Street (2013). It is an entertaining thriller with a straightforwardly dry message that money – now no longer even in its physical form – rules the world, while we let it.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos by Atsushi Nishijima – ©2016 CTMG