Director: Jodie Foster
Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito
Money: it has the power to make us happier beyond measure or devastated beyond belief. Capitalism can certainly be an ugly thing, and that’s what Jodie Foster seeks to prove in Money Monster. The film sees a low-income man violently confronting a member of the financial elite – a talk show personality – in a desperate quest for answers. Foster hits her goal point blank through vivid characters and expert pacing, making Money Monster her best film since her directorial debut Little Man Tate.
George Clooney is right at home as Lee Gates, the unappreciative host of a talk show that delivers stock market advice to viewers. One such viewer, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), is distraught when he takes a tip from Lee that causes him to lose all of his family’s savings. In his anger, Kyle holds up the “Money Monster” studio under the threat of a bomb, demanding that Lee find explanation for his losses.
One of the best aspects about the film is its stellar cast. Clooney is well-suited for his upscale role, simply oozing class and an aura of self-indulgence. But, overshadowing him are Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell. Roberts plays Patty, the show’s focused and hard-working director, who is essentially the brains behind the show. Roberts’ performance, as well as that of supporting actress Caitriona Balfe, shows evidence that Money Monster comes from a female director (in a great way!). Balfe’s character is Diane Lester, the chief communications officer of the company responsible for the losses of Kyle and millions of other investors. She and Patty represent two different types of working woman: the hardworking woman at a disadvantage due to her gender, and the hardworking woman who has obtained the respect she deserves. Of course, (minor spoiler here) both women end up getting their due appreciation – with Diane playing a key role in taking down the adversary and Lee realizing that he would get nowhere without his dedicated director. It’s so refreshing to see such strong female protagonists, both portrayed so well by the talented actresses.
O’Connell is also due unending praise for his performance. The actor was last seen playing a young American war hero in 2014’s Unbroken, and his appearance in Money Monster proves his skill as an actor. If Lee Gates represents the country’s conceited elites, Kyle Budwell represents the average American, but maybe with a touch more emotional imbalance. Although Budwell is the character with the gun, O’Connell makes it clear that he’s not the real enemy. Through a violently quavering voice, perfectly measured jerkiness, and a gaze that switches between fear and anger, O’Connell creates a character that demands every ounce of sympathy from the audience. Kyle isn’t an enemy, and O’Connell illustrates that point perfectly through his spot-on performance.
The writing and Foster’s direction are incredible. Practically everything that occurs in the film isn’t just relevant to the plot; it also directly builds on the film’s themes. At the very beginning of the film, the program’s intro shows Lee dancing in between two young women decked out in glitter. The display is absurb, but it’s not just to show the excessive pomp and flash the star is accustomed to. It also contributes Foster’s statement about the decline of journalism, which is no longer about uncovering the truth. Much like “Money Monster” is developed as a source of entertainment rather than concrete financial counseling, today’s journalism is about glamour – delivering stories that sell. Towards the start of the show’s hostage crisis, Patty asks the camera operator to zoom in on Kyle, providing much needed comic relief. But, her action also highlights the fact that despite being amidst a life-or-death situation, her priority is making sure the content being broadcast looks good. Carefully thought moments like these show how well Foster’s themes are embedded in Money Monster.
Films that make a mockery of Wall Street are undoubtedly in high demand right now, with the critical successes The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street. Walking out of those two films made me mad – mad at capitalism, mad at Wall Street, and just mad because there was nothing I could do about it. Money Monster aims for a similar impact with audiences, and achieves it for the most part, although not on so grand of a scale. Even so, it’s a great movie, filled with tension, strong pacing, and well-thought messages.