Sunday, May 15, 2016

Review: Money Monster

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures.
Jodie Foster's "Money Monster" can't be faulted for good intentions and, for the most part, it's a well made thriller that occasionally reaches for the obvious and, in some instances, the downright unbelievable. It's skillfully made, well acted, more often than not entertaining and a little farfetched.

While last year's "The Big Short" and Ramin Bahrani's underrated "99 Homes" divulged a fair amount of information you might not have known about the economic and housing market crashes, respectively, "Money Monster" doesn't tell you a whole lot you likely don't already know about Wall Street greed. The filmmakers are obviously informed, but the picture is more interested in being a vessel for channeling rage and relying on tense drama for entertainment purposes than for educating.

As the film opens, George Clooney's smarmy Lee Gates is hosting the titular financial TV show via the help of his producer, Patty (Julia Roberts). Although these early scenes are effective, they also include a few moments involving Clooney's character and a few back-up dancers that are, well, a bit embarrassing.

Thankfully, those awkward moments are interrupted when an angry young man named Kyle (Jack O'Connell) takes Lee hostage while live on the air, demanding answers after having lost all his money on a stock for which Lee vouched. The company's CEO (Dominic West) blames the stock's plummet on a mysterious glitch.

The film mostly plays as if it's taking place in real time as Lee and Patty, who is clearly the smartest person in the room, scramble for answers and attempt to track down West's shady Walt Camby, who may or may not have engaged in some dirty dealings that led to the stock's crash.

The film channels some of the anger that has been witnessed during this election cycle, although it is more in line with Bernie Sanders' populist anti-Wall Street campaign than Donald Trump's racial scapegoating one. And while it may have its heart in the right place, some of the elements in "Money Monster" are difficult to swallow.

The picture features a scenario that is obviously complex, although its characters manage to unravel it during the course of a morning through a few phone calls and clicks of the computer. And while Kyle is supposed to draw our sympathies - and does so later in the film - he, at first, comes off as unhinged and with his thick New Jersey accent, a stereotype of blue collar America. A scene in which his pregnant girlfriend dresses him down over a computer is awkward and a subplot involving police officers trying to shoot a bomb device off Clooney's shirt stretches credibility about as far as it can be stretched.

That being said, "Money Monster" is tense and, for the most part, works as a thriller. Clooney does a nice job playing a compromised guy who realizes he can do better, while Roberts is very effective as the voice in his ear, acting both as Lee's instruction guide on how to stay alive and his conscience. If "Money Monster" doesn't reveal much we don't already know about Wall Street, it works well enough as a hostage thriller. It's far from perfect, but is a decent piece of entertainment that, at least, attempts to tackle weighty subject matter in a movie season mostly filled with fluff.

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