The financial system is hopelessly rigged. Wall Street sociopaths have robbed us blind and will do it again. Corporate-owned media is utterly corrupt and complicit. Politicians are bought and paid for. Billionaires don’t do jail time; whistleblowers do. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Pissed off about all of it, right? You’ve seen The Big Short, right? Then there are only a few reasons left to see Money Monster, a Jodie Foster-directed satire posing as a hostage thriller.
George Cooney plays Lee Gates, a glib, soulless, Jim Cramer-style asshat who, between corny bits like cavorting with dancing girls while dressed as a Vegas casino dealer, doles out dubious stock tips as the host of the Financial News Network’s hit show Money Monster. When an international trading company happens to “lose” over $800 million in one single day–an inexplicable “glitch,” the company says—into the TV studio slips Kyle (Brit actor Jack O’Connell, intense and magnetic in a one-note role), an everyday working class guy from the outer boroughs who’s just seen his life savings go up in smoke.
Furious with the trading company’s M.I.A. CEO (Dominic West, in full smarm mode) and a government he knows won’t lift a finger to protect the fleeced and disenfranchised, the unhinged Kyle comes armed with a loaded gun and a couple of suicide vests, taking hostage Gates and his staff, including Patty, his long-suffering director (Julia Roberts), and his tech crew. Foster directs the in-studio scenes with tense, jazzy know-how and the movie starts off like a rocket with Clooney especially strong as a huckster slowly beginning to lose it and Roberts, playing off him expertly, as a highly competent, supremely focused pro who is sick to death of having to hold this needy man-child’s hand.
The hostage situation captures the public’s attention, and the action spills right out into the streets. Some of the lines by Jamie Linden, Alan DeFiore and Jim Kouf have a nice bite to them, like when Roberts’ character wryly observes, “We don’t do gotcha journalism here. We don’t do journalism at all.” But the movie sets us up for an scathing neo-Network cry from the heart before evaporating into mild finger wagging and politics that seem at least a decade past their pull date. But if Money Monster has an agenda, it’s a rare (if half-hearted) progressive one, and the performances are on target. It’s a well-made, well-meaning piece of entertainment, and it’s grown up.
During an ugly election cycle, it also tackles contemporary malaise in ways that may make it resonate with advocates both for Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Depending on the election’s outcome, Money Monster may look even more interesting 10 or 20 years down the road.