Movie Review - Money Monster

Jodie Foster co-starred in Spike Lee's Inside Man, a thriller involving a hostage situation in lower Manhattan that involved large, financial institutions, indicting Wall Street or those of that world. After acting in that 2006 film, she must have decided that she wanted to direct a movie almost exactly like it, so out pops this. Sadly, it's not as smart as Spike Lee's film nor is it as stylish. It's also no where near as interesting as The Beaver (2011), Foster's last feature film as director. It's instead a movie that very much is in reaction to the 2008 financial crisis in the United States where big banks and investment companies lost millions and millions in unethical ways and got away with it. It's an expression of the frustration and anger against a seeming crime of which there was no justice. It allows for a collective catharsis, or, in a sense, a kind of penitence.

George Clooney and Julia Roberts reunite after working together on the Ocean's Eleven franchise of films. This time, they're not love interests. Instead, they're co-workers. He's Lee Gates, the host of a financial advice show, a bit of a male diva, a charming and at times annoying braggadocio. She's Patty Fenn, the director of the show, a sensible and very capable woman, frustrated by the likes of Lee and perhaps wanting to do something less entertainment in appearance and more journalistic.

Jack O'Connell (Unbroken and '71) co-stars as Kyle Budwell, a poor and struggling, blue-collar worker with a girlfriend and baby on the way. He comes across a great inheritance, which he wants to invest and quickly grow. Based on one stock tip given by Lee, Kyle puts all his money into one company and that company crashes. Kyle loses everything and doesn't accept the company's explanation for what went wrong. He thinks there's some kind of conspiracy, so he goes to Lee's show and takes him hostage live on-the-air.

Eventually, this leads to Kyle and even both Lee and Patty trying to find the truth about why the company crashed and lost Kyle's money, along with millions more. One assumes the truth will be a fictionalized version of the truth behind the actual 2008 financial crisis in the United States. One assumes it would have been a non-protracted rendition of The Big Short, but characters like the ones played by Christian Bale or Steve Carell wouldn't be protagonists. They would instead be the antagonists.

Dominic West (The Wire and The Affair) plays Walt Camby, the CEO of IBIS, the aforementioned company that lost millions of people's money. One assumes he's the rendition of Bale or Carell's character in The Big Short, but only painted in a more villainous light. Except, it's revealed that Walt's actions are slightly different than the actions in The Big Short. Instead of the housing bubble, Walt gambles with conflicts in Africa.

In a way, this makes sense because this movie isn't set in 2007 or 2008. The United States has moved past that housing bubble, so if a major company were gambling nearly a decade later, then it would have to gamble on something else. Yet, it's unclear if this world experienced the 2008 financial crisis of the real world. One assumes not because otherwise all the characters are pretty idiotic. For the movie to work, it has to be ignorant of the past eight years, which makes the entire thing feel anachronistic.

Having worked in TV news and live television, the only parts that didn't feel anachronistic were the parts involving Patty directing the show during the hostage situation. Roberts plays it very well. Yes, she's scared and a bit panicked, but she is such a great leader. Patty is able to maintain calm in this storm and also help everyone else, even Lee, maintain calm. Seeing her employ good, journalistic tactics was great to watch as well. It was also interesting to see the mechanics or electronics at play of moving a live TV show from one place to another without stopping or any break. The logistics and pressures of that were engaging.

Written by Jamie Linden and Alan DiFore & Jim Kouf, the script provides a couple of genuine, thrilling and even comical moments. Those included Kyle getting a lavaliere microphone, Lee learning what his life is worth, Kyle being emasculated by his girlfriend and the reversal where Lee becomes the somewhat kidnapper and taking Kyle hostage. Other than that, the film is rather tame. Foster doesn't take much risks or bold steps filmmaking-wise. It's pretty run-of-the-mill.

Despite Foster's denials, this movie's TV show is based on CNBC's Mad Money hosted by Jim Cramer. Lee Gates is very much Jim Cramer but a million times more handsome. However, a better confrontation is currently on the Internet. Just search for Jon Stewart's interview of Jim Cramer on The Daily Show in March 2009.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


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