Its preposterous premise notwithstanding, Money Monster is a competently executed thriller that urges you to ponder pressing questions about corporate greed and the responsibility of the media. Directed by Jodie Foster, the film features compelling performances from its three principal leads who keep you invested in the characters even when the plot becomes progressively silly.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, a brash television presenter whose popular investment show has made him something of a Wall Street wiz. He’s kept in check for the most part by his trusted producer Patty (Julia Roberts), but after he plugs a high tech stock that mysteriously crashes, a disgruntled investor, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), sneaks into the studio and takes Lee hostage while live on the air.
Anyone who’s worked in live television will tell you that the chances of pulling off such a coup are highly improbable if not flat out impossible, but that’s not the point. It’s certainly an intriguing idea, and I can think of a few presenters with a God complex who could do with this kind of scare, if only to bring them down a few notches.
For all purposes, the threat in the film though is a real one, and brought upon by a man with nothing at stake after he’s lost virtually everything on that bad tip. Foster creates a palpable sense of fear among those trapped in the control room and in the studio, even as Lee and Patty, communicating via earpiece, must figure out a way to defuse the situation.
The film is on relatively solid ground till such time that the plot remains contained in the studio. But as the action moves outdoor, the cracks in the script begin to show. Parallel to the hostage drama, Lee and Patty and their backroom team work against the clock to investigate and expose the dubious practices of a corporate honcho (Dominic West), but it culminates in a frankly ridiculous finale.
Unafraid to play a flawed protagonist, and not for the first time, Clooney is terrific as the cocky anchor who undergoes a crisis of conscience as the layers begin to peel. Julia Roberts, although the bulk of her role involves looking at screens and barking into phones, makes a lasting impression. And there’s real pathos in Jack O’Connell’s portrayal of a desperate man pushed to extreme measures.
It’s the acting that uplifts this film and glosses over many of its problems. Foster and her writers attempt to tell a story that is timely in the current financial climate, and they deserve credit for that. But ultimately the film feels a little too heavy handed for its own good, and ends up compromising on the thrills while pounding its message home. I’m going with three out of five for Money Monster. It’s meaningful but muddled.