On paper Money Monster is a classic Hollywood idea, take two established mini-genres (hostage movie and corporate conspiracy) cobble them together, and enjoy a relatively safe yet suitably original film.
The hostage in question is Financial TV host Lee Gates (George Clooney) and the crew behind his popular show ‘Money Monster’, where he spouts which stocks are hot or not in a neutered Wolf of Wall Street style. However, his over-the-top nature seems to have finally caught up with him when disgruntled viewer Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) breaks onto the set and takes Lee captive at gunpoint, demanding the cameras be kept rolling. With the help of his director Patty (Julia Roberts), communicating to him via earpiece, they must carefully handle the situation in order for them all to get out alive.
The hook of the film is this central tension between the three main characters, which is thankfully the best part. The dialogue is witty and snappy, treading the line between believable and entertaining just the right amount, despite the occasional slip up. This is of course helped by the acting of Clooney, O’Connell, and to a lesser extent Roberts which, while not extraordinary by any means, helps to elevate the lines in a way only a good actor can.
Sure the casting was no doubt based on the two larger star’s selling power, but here they prove why they’ve managed to maintain their reputations over the years, by continually providing a constant quality, if not in the film’s then in their own work. Jack O’Connell manages to not only stand ground, but steal the limelight from the stars in the odd moment. The performance might not be award-worthy, but it stands as a great platform for another interesting actor to enter the big leagues, and shows a lot of promise.
However, the moment the film decides to step away from these three the cracks begin to show. Every moment with a relation to money doesn’t come across as intelligent, but dim-witted, naïve, cheesy, or all of the above. Each line spouted by side-characters is more clichéd than the last, and by the end they’re nearly detestably crap, dissolving any real stakes that have been naturally built by the leads. The direction and cinematography are average, with very little being utilised to progress the story forward, opting instead to just plaster what’s happening on screen in as plain a way as possible. This plain style also serves to highlight the poor editing, as every attempt of a flourish in post-production comes across as trite or forced.
This is no more obvious than in every single instance the film tries to make a comment on technology. Why would you make a film about technology if you don’t understand it? It would be petty to dive into each individual aspect of what the film gets wrong in this regard, so I’ll restrain myself to the few that are genuinely obvious, not-nitpicky, and aggravating.
For example, every millennial connected to the internet is an absolute moron, as the emergence of smart phones has turned youths into “Ney-Ney”-ing lemmings, who would face a very painful death just to grind on basic cable. There is an admirable choice to include YouTube news outlets in the generic montages too, but they’re restrained to making stupid points such as pointing out the extremely obvious and stating that people dying is bad. The final joke of the film is about how people are making “cat reaction memes” on Vine after the events, which I can’t spoil of course, but seems unintelligibly dark, especially given that the characters laugh at them. It’s obtuse, like it was put together by a focus group in a slightly bitter care home.
At the end there’s a brief moment when the show finally finishes, and the building audiences around the world watching in Truman Show-esqe style suddenly realise that they have nothing left to watch. It’s the chance where the film looked like it was about to finally make a point of some kind, but nothing came of it. The film overall is a collection of missed opportunities like this really, it has an intriguing hook, a capable cast, and a script that really does have some good moments for the first two thirds, yet in the end this all just comes down to something rather generic and forgettable. There’s such a jumble of conflicting and half-hearted ideas on technology, money, and greed, which all just cancel each other out. It’s not a bad film, it just doesn’t have any point.
Money Monster (2016), directed by Jodie Foster, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures. Certificate 15.