Directed by: Jodie Foster
Premise: A disillusioned blue collar worker (Jack O’Connell) takes a cable news host (George Clooney) hostage on live television.
What Works: For its first two-thirds, Money Monster is a tense and smart movie that reflects the anger and angst in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The film is cathartic for anyone who has been disgusted by Wall Street’s malfeasance or exasperated by the financial news sector’s ineptitude. But Money Monster is a bit more sophisticated than that, at least for its first two thirds, and the picture presents multi-dimensional characters dealing with complex problems. The story is primarily about a financial news television host, played by George Clooney, who is forced into a crisis of conscience by a blue collar worker, played by Jack O’Connell, who lost his life savings in a stock crash. Clooney’s character is clearly patterned after Mad Money host Jim Cramer and the fictional character’s show in Money Monster echoes the funny and eccentric qualities of Cramer’s CNBC program. The movie is in part a critique of a financial news culture that has given itself over to advertising for the wealthy and powerful instead of investigating Wall Street’s business practices and explaining the markets to the viewers. But Clooney’s character isn’t a villain nor is O’Connell’s character a virtuous champion of the people. As much as Clooney’s character is put on the spot and exposed as a shill, what O’Connell’s character has done isn’t really going to improve his situation and he has to take responsibility for his violence. A hostage crisis is itself compelling but the complexity of the characters and their flawed personalities enriches the material; what would be a straightforward act of terrorism or a simplistic public shaming takes on more sophisticated meaning. All of that heavy thematic material is in service of a mostly thrilling story. Money Monster has a point of view but it doesn’t come off as a screed and it succeeds as a piece of entertainment. The story unfolds at a clip, the action on the television set is filmed in a claustrophobic way, and the script is smart and occasionally funny.
What Doesn’t: Money Monster undermines itself in the third act. Echoing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the bulk of the movie successfully dramatizes an everyman desperately trying to get a straight answer from a system that specializes in obfuscating the truth. As the story transitions into its final portion, Money Monster simplifies its conflict. What begins as a story about shades of grey becomes black and white as the conflict shifts its focus from a corrupt system to a corrupt individual. This undercuts the subversive power of the movie. The film begins by saying that the whole financial system is rigged, with the corporately-owned financial media shilling for the wealthy and abetting their schemes. The filmmakers walk this back in the ending, changing the message of the movie to suggest that the system itself is fine and that financial malfeasance is just the result of a few bad apples. That’s a simplistic and disingenuous take on the conflict. This thematic transition accompanies a change in the action. In the final portion of Money Monster the action leaves the television studio. When that happens, Money Monster loses a lot of the tension and claustrophobia of the hostage situation and there is a key reveal that isn’t handled very well and is obvious to anyone who has been paying attention. There’s also a few unbelievable details involving the police. Law enforcement is marginalized throughout this story, but in a real life situation the authorities would force themselves into the action. It’s also very unlikely that the police would allow the characters to leave the studio the way that they do in the climax.
Bottom Line: Money Monster is two-thirds of a great movie and so it is ultimately a good film with an underwhelming conclusion. It aspires to pictures like Network and Dog Day Afternoon and while it doesn’t make it to that level it is an admirable and entertaining attempt.
Episode: #595 (May 22, 2016)