”Money Monster”: Better as Urban Thriller than Media Satire

by yemenity2010

Honestly, I had never heard of the man before. It’s not like we watch these kinds of shows on a regular basis here in Scandinavia. At least not the American ones. Still, when a purported financial wizard by the name of Jim Cramer went on Comedy Central’s ”The Daily Show” (which I did watch on a regular basis at the time) a few years ago and wound up almost annihilated by the now legendary host Jon Stewart, it was great entertainment.

Apparently, Cramer made himself a name with – among other things – a TV show called ”Mad Money”. And I guess it might be possible the makers of ”Money Monster”, including director Jodie Foster (yes, that Jodie Foster) found some inspiration in that postmodern cautionary tale. Here, it’s flamboyant, self-centered TV personality Lee Gates (George Clooney) who suddenly finds himself taken hostage while broadcasting his live show called, surprisingly, ”Money Monster”. A young man with a gun and a suicide vest pays a visit and Gates needs to apply all of his skills as a professional motormouth to distract the uninvited guest from turning the studio into dust and debris. The young man is, as it turns out, an investor of sorts. A regular guy who put too much of his savings in a fund recommended by Gates a few weeks earlier. It was supposed to be as safe an investment as they come…

However, something weird happened to the stock in question. Millions, literally millions of dollars vanished into thin air, a fact the company responsible are trying to explain as the result of a glitch in the software they were using. People in general have a hard time buying that, including the guy with the gun. And, increasingly, the staff at the TV station with Mr Gates in the midst of it all.

The concept for the film is decidedly more conventional than, say, ”The Big Short”. But needless to say, the financial meltdowns of later years contribute to the plot and our understanding of it, whether or not it’s mentioned out loud. That said, ”Money Monster” works better as a well-paced urban thriller with a slightly comical touch than as conversation-starter on global economics 101. Jodie Foster’s main ambition seems to have been just that, telling a suspenseful story playing with our inherent tendencies to distrust everything we’re told, wary of possible Ponzi schemes and such. Also, George Clooney and Julia Roberts (as Gates producer) are cast in comfortable parts, the kinds of on-screen personalities they could inhabit almost on autopilot if need be. Luckily they don’t simply settle for that. The film does work up a tension to a certain point, while providing enough small surprises to avoid making it all too predictable.

It would seem probable that the director & co have glanced at films such as ”Dog Day Afternoon”, ”Inside Man” (where Foster herself played a minor but significant role) and a number of other thrillers involving hostage situations in general. This is not exactly original storytelling to the core of its being. Simply put; if you think you would appreciate ”Money Monster” based on genre, synopsis and who’s in it, you’re likely to like it enough not to find it a waste of time. It’s not entirely consistent in tone, nor particularly effective as a satire on the media and/or Wall Street shenanigans. But as a whole, the experience and competence involved help make it a slick, satisfying ride for some 90 minutes and change.