With stellar performances from George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell, Money Monster is a comedy drama that paints a painfully realistic picture of modern media culture. 8/10
George Clooney plays loveable douche-bag Lee Gates, host of stock tip show Money Monster. In the space of a day he is kidnapped by a desperate man who lost out because of Gates’ advice (Jack O’Connell) who convinces him to get to the bottom of a disastrous financial glitch that lost a lot of people a lot of money. With his faithful director (Julia Roberts) in his ear, Gates and his captor are the focus of all media as they track down the CEO (Dominic West) who could have the answers they need.
Clooney is at his best when he’s playing morally bankrupt. He’s even better when he’s playing a guy who’s playing morally bankrupt. So the role of slick, smooth-talking money guru/entertainer Lee Gates is a perfect match. It would be very easy to keep this superficial veneer going throughout the hostage situation, playing the jibes and sickly sweet dialogue for all its worth. Instead, everything we know of Gates from the first 10 minutes goes out the window the second the first gunshot is fired. From that moment Clooney breaks Gates down and rebuilds him from scratch, taking pieces of his slimy vaudeville personality and taping them together with a new-found compassion for human life. Gates’ maturing is a lot more than can be said for his audience, and the question of when does the hostage situation stop being entertainment hangs very low and heavy over the film.
I distinctly remember falling back in love with Julia Roberts back in 2013. After a few sugar-coated roles, her bitch-slap performance opposite Meryl Streep in August: Osage County reminded me that Roberts can be a powerhouse in the right role. Money Monster definitely gave her room to flex her muscles as Gates’ director Patty. Between playing the soothing voice in Clooney’s ear and getting to the bottom of the financial puzzle with investigative journalistic tenacity, Roberts is responsible for a lot of what makes this movie great. Sure she gives it heart, but she also throws in plenty of teeth and “fuck you”‘s for good measure. In another reality, this is a role that director Jodie Foster could easily be cast in, which is nothing but a compliment to Roberts.
Jack O’Connell has already made a modest name for himself. Films like British prison drama Starred Up and Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken show a considerable range for his few years in the trade. Now he’s playing a man who’s lost everything because of a bad stock tip and comes looking for answers with a gun and a couple of bomb vests. There’s no point in this movie where you don’t believe O’Connell is entirely out of control. He plays unhinged and broken terrifyingly well. Unlike most movie hostage takers, O’Connell doesn’t go from in control to out of control. He’s never in control, and that makes him all the more compelling.
Often attempts by films to turn the camera on the real world and expose real world plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face evils come off as trite or preachy. Fortunately, despite condemning banks, big business and Wall Street all at once, Money Monster doesn’t fall into similar potholes or plot-holes. This is mainly down to it being a comedy drama . There’s an alternate reality where this film is a straight drama that’s powerful but dry. Instead we get goofy dances, impromptu sex scenes and truly wicked changes of luck. At one point Clooney tries to get his captors money back by encouraging the audience to buy the botched stock to raise its value. The speech is rousing and emotional, the score swells, and what happens? The stock goes down. Instead of gasps in the theatre, there are chuckles.
What we’re left with is a film that is very telling and very true to modern life. People aren’t just watching Gates’ show as the situation escalates. They’re also tweeting about it, discussing it on talk shows and whooping as the hostage and his captor make their way through the streets. When everything ends, justice is done and bullets are fired, the audience goes back to playing fussball and making memes and vines of the events. For all of them it’s still entertainment, and the realisation that it would all go down the same way in real life is truly chilling.
If you’re looking for a weak link in Money Monster, it’s name is Dominic West. West has never really returned to his glory days in dramas like The Wire or Appropriate Adult. These days he seems more of a generic well-to-do white guy who doesn’t have the range to be especially good or especially evil. Sure, he plays a believable dick CEO in Money Monster, but it still smacked of seat filling.
West’s disappointing American accent is one of two in the movie – the other being O’Connell’s. Despite the latter’s shining performance, the accents from these two Brits weren’t stellar. Both were leaning full throttle into New York talk which made it a little hard to take them seriously at times. O’Connell salvaged it with fevered ranting and shouting. Sadly, not nearly as much effort from West.
Money Monster is a comedy of human error. Despite being goofy and ridiculous at times, the movie is a fun house mirror of modern day media – contorted, but still reflecting real life. Jodie Foster has made a film that starts as an homage to Paddy Chayefsky‘s Network, with Jack O’Connell‘s mad as hell and not able to take it anymore. What it becomes is a story of a few real people in an unreal situation.
The film doesn’t beg us to take these issues seriously, but instead takes an almost satirical scenic route to show not what should matter, but what actually matters to regular people.