The global financial crisis of 2007-08 was so bad that economists called it one of the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Like that golden age for Hollywood, cinema has responded once again. From documentaries such as Too Big to Fail through to last year’s Oscar-winning The Big Short, these films have attempted to hold accountable those financial institutions that have seemingly escaped personal consequence. In MONEY MONSTER, director Jodie Foster chooses the thriller genre to make a point about banker responsibility.
Styled after Jim Cramer’s Mad Money persona, financial guru and TV personality Lee Gates (George Clooney) is in the middle of his bling-filled broadcast when viewer Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) busts in and holds Gates hostage. Having lost money in a “algorithm glitch” that caused IBIS Global Capital’s stockholders to lose $800 million, the distressed Budwell demands justice from advisers like Gates and IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West), not just for himself, but for all investors who lost money.
While the film may not directly be about the GFC, the thriller approach is a unique take on accountability, albeit an ill-advised response in real life. Where MONEY MONSTER becomes interesting is when it takes the formula and uses it to point an unwavering finger at Wall Street bankers and financiers, and even the media itself, for allowing this to happen in the first place. What begins with elements of the rapid-fire Aaron Sorkin-esque dialogue of a workplace turns into a spin on Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975) as our sympathies begin to fall in line with Budwell’s. This is partly thanks to the versatile British actor Jack O’Connell, as well as the case Foster and screenwriters Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, and Jamie Linden begin building against the institutions. Here the film suddenly becomes a journalistic investigation, with more than a dash of Lumet’s other biting satire of the 1970s, Network. The media circus itself becomes the news, recreating the very conditions that led to misinformation in the first place. “If nobody understands the math,” comes the sage advice in relation to the allegedly failing algorithm, “nobody has to explain the money.” It’s as true of any complex media report smothered in the distractions of the banal, and Foster makes her case solidly on this point.
The use of formula and tips of the hat to classic films are one thing, but there are some cinematic clichés, from producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) who is a few days away from taking a new job, to the family life of Budwell that simply exacerbates his hysteria. As this is being presented as a thriller, it’s also reliant on perhaps one too many twists, occasionally obfuscating the ultimate message of the film. Yet if nothing else, it may be you only opportunity to see George Clooney make it rain in a gold glitter top hat.
2016 | US | DIR: Jodie Foster | WRITERS: Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden | CAST: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito | DISTRIBUTOR: Sony | RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes | RATING:★★★½ (7/10)