A lone gunman breaks into a TV studio on Wall Street and demands $800million. This should’ve been something special.
Money Monster, starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell is a combination of Phone Booth and John Q, as the events happen in real time and are transmitted across the world. We anticipate an attack on the bankers, a revelation about the media and a powerful point highlighting the struggle of those paying the price. Instead, a single bank is bad, the media are only doing their job and a criminal is foolish in their attempt to be heard.
Lights, camera, action! Another show is gearing up and ready for live broadcast. Lee Gates (Clooney) has been in make-up and tells his PA to cancel and organize meetings. He’s angry at a bird that’s stuffed and frustrated at the minor issues that plague the production. He hasn’t read the talking points and rambles off the teleprompter, throwing the entire crew off the carefully prepped plan. Behind the scenes is director Patty Fenn (Roberts). Calm and collected, she’s leaving Money Monster soon despite sticking alongside Gates for years. Her manner and conduct is the spine of the show and the glue that holds it all together. But this day has something else in store as, breezing past the security with two brown boxes, Kyle Budwell (O’Connell) manages to creep on set and pull out a gun. Gates is the hostage and Budwell has every intention of killing him if he doesn’t say his peace and remain live on TV. The anticipated cops and SWAT team swarm onto the lot and discuss plans and collateral damage. While the live TV element confines the plot to one studio it ramps up the pace, especially as Budwell simply wants answers to an enormous loss he’s made after trusting one of Lee Gates “safer than a savings account” tip.
There’s a high gloss on Money Monster with enormous scope, as we cut to teenagers in cafes, bros in bars and geeks at their screens. Its heart is in the right place as director Jodie Foster clearly intends on reminding us, bluntly, that what the bankers did was wrong. That no one has been held to account (despite multiple convictions in Iceland) and yet we glorify and dismiss those who make big bucks at the cost of others. There’s a fascinating reflection on the responsibility of the media, especially as Lee Gates is championing the greed that the western world obsesses over. Using The Young Turks, a liberal news channel on YouTube, among the stations commenting on the events in Money Monster, it is clear that however convoluted the plot may be, this story is trying to make a point. But it struggles.
Tragically, the focus is on Clooney’s Lee Gates; an arrogant, thrice-divorced escort-using, alcoholic. Underneath his showy persona, he’s a broken man and Julia Roberts Patty, is his rock. O’Connell’s bitter kidnapper is limited to angry f-bombs and gun-in-the-face frustration. At one point, there is a company CCO using business jargon to fob off the kidnapper and Gates and Fenn shout at her ridiculous press release answers. In Money Monster, the decision to rob O’Connell’s key role (a role that should be the beating heart of the movie) of a justified purpose and switch it for a relationship between two media people was a major misstep. It’s not critical enough of the media, except for claiming that role is to merely inform – and apologizing when getting bad information. The bankers are placed at fault, but it is made abundantly clear that, though wrong, it ain’t illegal so what can you do: “It’s business”. But Kyle Budwell is still a desperate fool, pointlessly demanding a fairer society.
It was George Clooney who held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, charging $353,400 a head to sit at the table. This can’t be ignored when such a film is released. Money Monster seems to tell us anyone who demands vital change is foolish in their assumption that the problems are infesting so many different parts of society. Fosters film has the odd bank at fault with the media sincerely unaware of the misinformation. This is opposed to the money monsters dominating entire industries and the vital position the media plays in downplaying the relevant information. It’s an entertaining film but dig a little deeper, and Money Monster doesn’t tell us what we need to hear.