It has only been within the past month that Money Monster star George Clooney found himself on the receiving end of rather scathing comments from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders after Clooney hosted a cozy fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, an event that cost up to $353,400 per couple to attend while down the street Sanders himself was holding a fundraiser at $27 a head. When confronted on the absurdity of hosting such an extravagant fundraiser, Clooney replied on NBC's Meet the Press ""The Sanders campaign, when they talk about it is absolutely right," he added. "It's ridiculous that we should have this kind of money in politics. I agree completely."
Money Monster, Indeed.
The stakes in this film are even higher, $800 million in fact. That's how much is lost in one day by Ibis Clear Capital, a highly regarded investment outfit helmed by one Walt Camby (Dominic West), whose record for corporate transparency is unquestioned and for financial gain is without exception. The company is such a sure shot that it ends up being recommended by Lee Gates, a fast-talking financial adviser with his own massively popular cable network show whose persona is undoubtedly inspired by money guru Jim Cramer. So, when Ibis crashes, haphazardly claimed to have been caused by a technical "glitch," a whole lotta people lose a whole lotta money.
For Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell, Unbroken), an already on the edge working class New Yorker, it's not just a "glitch."
Kyle loses everything. So, in a way, Kyle has nothing left to lose. That's a dangerous combination.
If you're from my hometown of Indianapolis, you may remember or have heard about a similar incident. In 1977, Anthony Kiritsis, upset over his mortgage broker's refusal to give him more time to make up some payments, showed up at the broker's office and wired a sawed-off shotgun to his head. Kiritsis had it wired so that if he ended up getting shot, the shotgun would also kill the broker, Richard O. Hall. The scenario played out for hours, mostly in Hall's office and for much of the time on live television. To this day, it's one of those Indianapolis events that is practically unforgettable.
Apparently, things haven't changed much.
Money Monster is directed by Academy Award-winning actress Jodie Foster, a rarity in the sense that it's not a more personal project that she herself developed. Foster ends up being just about perfect for the job, though a simplified climax and paint-by-numbers resolution very nearly derails it all before Foster somehow pulls it all back together into an almost Big Short type ending.
While it would be understandable to enter Money Monster with extraordinarily high expectations given the talent involved, those who embrace it the most will likely be those who can appreciate it for what it is - an effective conspiracy thriller with a terrific cast and a tightly wound story nicely, though very simply, crafted by Jamie Linden (Dear John, We Are Marshall) with and based upon a story by Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf, both of whom have extensive television writing backgrounds likely helping this story that largely unfolds in real time.
Clooney, whom I've always regarded as a tad overrated as an actor, is actually quite perfect in this type of role which, if we're being honest, comes off as a fairly complex variation of his own public persona. Clooney's Lee Gates is a showman who has been a showman for so long that he's forgotten it's all a show. He's the kind of guy you love to hate and hate to love, a fact that comes into play when Gates concocts an idea designed to reverse Ibis's fortunes on live television. If it sounds like I'm harshin' on Clooney, quite the opposite is true. Clooney has a magical ability in real life to come off as a good ole' Kentucky boy, which he is, and as the kind of bona fide celebrity who can now attract couples paying over a quarter of a million dollars to dine with a presidential candidate.
So is Lee Gates.
As Patty Fenn, Gates's long suffering producer, Julia Roberts is riveting despite acting out her role pretty much from the confines from her chair in a control booth. Foster has always excelled at bringing to life quality female characters in her motion pictures, and Roberts reminds us how much acting can be done practically without moving a muscle.
While Clooney and Roberts are terrific, it's up-and-coming British actor who steals the show here. As Kyle, O'Connell gives a rather mind-blowing performance filled with rage and passion and an electrifying impulsivity. If you remember O'Connell from Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, in which he was the lead Louis Zamperini, you know he's a classically handsome young man whose performance here feels worn and tired and aching and like a man who has struggled too long with struggling.
Most of the supporting performances are fairly one note. Dominic West's Walt Camby is fine but not particularly memorable, while Giancarlo Esposito's police chief says all the things we expect police chiefs to say. Christopher Denham, as a production assistant to Gates, gives the film an awful lot of its nicely timed laughs, while Catriona Balfe (Escape Plan) plays an Ibis communications officer with a streak of humanity that seems to come out of nowhere.
Money Monster isn't a flawless film, but it's an engaging and entertaining one that should please fans of Foster, Clooney or Roberts. After a complex and satisfyingly intelligent film like The Big Short has been in theaters tackling this kind of subject matter in a far more satisfying and complete way, it may be tempting to dismiss this film as too shallow for its own good. Alas, I'm not convinced that the intent here was to create an expose' of the financial system, but instead to craft a personal story within a universal theme that is contemporary and relevant.
The simple truth is that the truth is seldom simple. Money Monster may find the human element in even the darkest character, yet on some weird and satisfying level that serves to make it a modestly more hopeful, yet fervently cynical, film in which bad people can do good things and good people can do bad things and the truth ends up being something we simply have to demand.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic