Money Monster falls short, but still delivers
It is hard to believe that actress, director, and producer Jodie Foster has worked in films and on television for almost 50 years. She was nominated for her first Academy Award at the age of 14 in Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976). A magna cum laude graduate of Yale University, she won her first Best Actress Oscar in THE ACCUSED (1988), and her second Best Actress Oscar in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991). Her fourth Oscar Nomination was for NELL (1994). She has directed four films including, LITTLE MAN TATE (1991), HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995), THE BEAVER (2011) and now, MONEY MONSTER (2016).
It doesn’t take long to compare MONEY MONSTER to THE BIG SHORT (2015). Last year’s end of the year surprise was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture of the Year and received the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The theme was the collapse of the credit and housing bubble while focusing in on the greed of the big banks. “Tell me what is going on. We are looking for answers to our questions.”
Unfortunately, MONEY MONSTER is not as clever or as well written as THE BIG SHORT. The Wall Street conspiracy thriller/hostage crises takes place during a live broadcast of the weekly “Money Monster” cable television show. A gunman finds his way onto the set and demands that the cameras continue to roll. He has something to say. The “real-time” broadcast stays on the air and is viewed around the world.
The core theme throughout this film revolves around relationships. There are so many different layers that unfold. The action takes place within a television station, a police department, a financial company, and the TV viewing audience. The second layer then comes into focus between a TV star and his director, a man and his pregnant girlfriend, the NYPD police, a communications officer and her boss, and the growing viewing public.
The third layer is the most revealing and to me, the most disturbing. For that, I go back to the signature phrase found in the film, NETWORK (1976). “I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore”.
When MONEY MONSTER was in development, no one could have ever imagined that we were about to enter “the political era of Trump and the Populist rage.” Today, there is such frustration in our country. There is a streak of meanness and hatred that is being expressed all across America. MONEY MONSTER is the latest film to tap into our relationships with each other. At times, the movie is really funny. We laugh out loud, perhaps in order to ease the tension that is building. There is a lot of truth to what we are seeing up on the screen. We identify with the characters. We question trust and loyalty. We become blurred by our anger and, we want to be heard.
MONEY MONSTER resonates and deserves to be seen because it is the embodiment of today’s America. We are looking for answers to our questions. Too often, the equation of two plus two somehow equals seven. Tell me what is going on. How are we supposed to act and live in a world that has become so polarized? In MONEY MONSTER, the audience watches as a man slowly comes to realize that he is a pawn in a game he can’t win alone.
The opening minutes of this film are brilliant. The closing minute is equally brilliant. MONEY MONSTER started with such great promise, but the plot twists so much that it loses itself in excess. In-between the 98 minutes, we get to watch outstanding performances by two of our favorite movie stars. The supporting cast is equally strong.
George Clooney as cable news host, Lee Gates, and Julia Roberts as director, Patty Fenn, have great chemistry together. They are wonderful. In one of his best performances ever, Clooney as Gates works to find his moral compass and his humanity. Jack O’Connell continues to receive accolades as one of our most promising young actors. Playing Kyle Budwell, who has lost his entire savings due to Lee’s stock advice, Budwell actually becomes the film’s protagonist. Caitriona Balfe as communications officer Diane Lester, Giancarlo Esposito as NYPD Chief, Dominic West as IBIS CEO, and Emily Meade as Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend round out this solid cast.