There’s nothing wrong with a good-old-fashioned hostage thriller. There’s nothing wrong with a “message movie.” Unfortunately, Money Monster director Jodie Foster’s preachy combination of both, fails to become a compelling example of either. Foster’s fourth film stars George Clooney as a Jim Cramer-esque cable financial guru who finds himself wearing a bomb-laden vest and frantically negotiating for his own release when the gun-toting victim of a bad tip (Jack O’Connell) strolls into his studio. The gunman, Kyle, is disgruntled after losing $60,000 when a stock that Clooney’s Lee Gates has been touting goes belly-up following a mysterious and questionable “glitch” in an investment program loses investors $800 million and Gates with the help of his intrepid director, Patty (Julia Roberts) must work to appease Kyle by uncovering the truth about whether or not the “glitch” in the program was caused by a nefarious CEO played by Dominic West, whom you know is nefarious because he is played by Dominic West.
There can be no doubt of whose side Foster and Clooney (who also produced) are taking. Suggesting that Wall Street is run by privileged assholes with little regard for the wellbeing of others and less accountability is not exactly fresh take on the subject. “Wall Street Guys” in the movies have become like Nazis in the movies: you don’t care what happens to them. The tension of the hostage situation is undercut by the director and screenwriters’ resistance to letting the aggrieved gunman seem dangerous, lest there be any danger of sympathy shifting away. Foster and Clooney are on the soapbox that the “occupy” movement was on nearly half a decade ago and approach the material with a kind of sincerity that really seems condescendingly un-subtle that it does pleasantly old-fashioned. Martin Scorcese attacked the issue of Wall Street irresponsibility with a far greater sense of fun and verve with 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street and, when compared to the bombast of that film, Money Monster seems earnest to the point of dumbness. It’s unfair to compare just about any director’s work to Scorcese’s; for her part Foster does able, journeyman-like work behind the camera, it’s all uninspired competence.
George Clooney is not right for the role. Or, rather, this George Clooney is not right for the role. The Clooney that shows up is the charming serious guy from Good Night and Good Luck and Michael Clayton when what’s called for is the venal buffoon of Clooney’s work with the Coen Brothers. This is the really the problem with the whole movie: too much sincerity. A hostage situation on a show that is essentially Mad Money, could be the stuff of withering black comedy, but Foster and Clooney go earnest instead. The tone of the picture is “this is an important movie with a lot to say.” It isn’t.
Director: Jodie Foster
Screenwriter: Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden
Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique
Editor: Matt Chesse
Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito