Movies

MONEY MONSTER Movie Review – Oscar-Winning Trio Delivers Efficient, If Reductive, Thriller

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In Money Monster, Jodie Foster’s (Home for the Holidays, Little Man Tate) first film since The Beaver, a poorly received comedy-drama that had the ill-timed misfortune of a free-falling Mel Gibson in the lead, Lee Gates (George Clooney), an amoral, super-slick, Larry Cramer-inspired huckster with a five megawatt smile and five thousand dollar suits, struts and shuffles to sick beats as the host of a daily show on a financial network. As slickly packaged as its host, the show, aptly titled “Money Monster,” ostensibly sells one-of-a-kind access to the financial world. Except the show doesn’t. It’s pure infotainment and woe to the poor, ill-educated sucker who throws his money away on one of Gates’ stock tips. That doesn’t bother Gates, of course. He’d need a conscience for that to happen. He’s perfectly content functioning as an extremely well paid tool of financial capital and – to use the words of a character we’ll soon meet – the rigged system that keeps the ultra-wealthy in position of economic, political, and cultural power.

Gates can’t do it along, though. He can’t sell what he’s selling without a dedicated crew of professionals, including his longtime director and enabler, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts). Morals and ethics wise, she’s a step above Gates, but when an armed, thick-tongued representative of New York’s white working class, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), sneaks onto the “Money Monster” set, Patty does what any pro would do: She keeps the cameras rolling, even going as far as suggesting a camera move to remove a shadow from Kyle’s face. That push-pull, between doing the right thing and recognizing a ratings bonanza when she sees it – a live hostage situation unfolding in near real-time – pushes Money Monster in the direction of media satire, though, of course, Money Monster (the Movie) has to deliver, at least in part, exactly what it’s critiquing: An easily digestible, always entertaining takedown of the media-financial complex.

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Classically structured with tight causality and logic as selling points, not to mention smooth, efficient, and economical directing from Foster, Money Monster personifies the evils of corporate capitalism in the form of Walt Camby (Dominic West), the newly absent CEO of IBIS Clear Capital, an investment company that lost $800 million in a single day, supposedly due to a glitch with a high-frequency trading algorithm. Zero surprise, but the truth is much simpler – and for the audience, far more satisfying – than the vagaries and complexities of higher math: There’s never any doubt that Camby’s explanation for the financial meltdown won’t hold up under scrutiny and neither will his reputation. Camby’s PR Director, Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe, Outlander), emerges as a key character in his (potential) downfall. Like Gates, she gets an awakening of sorts when she starts to ask questions about the so-called glitch.

It’s incredibly convenient character and plot wise, of course. After all, what are the chances that two characters, Gates and Lester, would suddenly awaken from self-induced ignorance and become a zealous truth seeker in Gates’ case (a vest full of explosives helps too) and a potential whistleblower in hers. A cynic (i.e., someone who actually lives in the real world) would find their respective redemptive arcs too much to ultimately accept, especially from a film that tries to offer more than 98 minutes of escapist entertainment. For all of its head-dizzying complexity, last year’s take on similar subject matter, The Big Short, took a more honest approach, both to the subject matter and the real-life characters that profited handsomely from the Great Recession. By Money Monster closing moments, the central characters have received the obligatory life lessons in personal morality and professional ethics, presumably becoming better people. All it takes is for the representative of the white-working class to potentially martyr himself on live TV for that to happen (admittedly a small price to pay).

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To be fair, a late-film cutaway offers a different, maybe even contradictory perspective: Post-hostage crisis, the in-film audience who watched the events unfold with morbid fascination return to their everyday lives, fleetingly affected by the life-and-death struggle for truth, justice, and the once American way. Nothing really changes. The status quo returns and the investment bankers and institutions who caused the Great Recession, only to profit from it soon thereafter (forever and ever, amen), remain at large, protecting corporate-financial capitalism for the 1% in perpetuity.

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The Author

Mel Valentin

Mel Valentin

Mel Valentin hails from the great state of New Jersey. After attending NYU undergrad (politics and economics major, religious studies minor) and grad school (law), he decided a transcontinental move to California, specifically San Francisco, was in order. Since Mel began writing nine years ago, he's written more than 1,600 film-related reviews and articles. He's a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Online Film Critics Society.