money monster

Director: Jodie Foster

Genre: Thriller

Year: 2016

MONEY MONSTER marks the latest attempt by Hollywood to cash in on anti-Wall Street sentiments. The subgenre of banker revenge films currently shares the spotlight with wikileaks and slave movies as hamfisted thrillers masquerading as socially and politically daring works. Rather than confidently condemning anyone in particular, these films merely stir the pot with exploitative subject matters in order to draw in a larger audience. MONEY MONSTER does little to buck the trend, resulting in one of the most by-the-numbers “protests” of capitalism out there.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the host of a MAD MONEY-esque finance show called “Money Monster” and a true Jim Cramer acolyte, twerking and wearing a foam crown while commentating on the stock market. During a live broadcast, Kyle (Jack O’Connell), a man who has gone broke after following a bad tip made by Lee, takes the studio hostage with a gun and a bomb, demanding a public explanation for how one of Wall Street’s biggest firms could lose 80 million dollars to a “glitch.” It’s then up to Lee and his director (Julia Roberts) to bring the issue to light before Kyle or the police can escalate the situation past the point of no return.

money monster this caption

This caption proved to provide me with far more trouble than it was worth. I was originally going to simply write “Ocean’s 1911.” This was, as I thought anyway, a clever reference to the fact that Clooney, the actor who portrayed titular character Danny Ocean of OCEAN’S ELEVEN, is being threatened with a handgun. The M1911 pistol is one of the most widely produced and longest living handguns in the world, so it would’ve been an epic play to take the first two numbers and stick them into the title of a famous Cloon film and spell out the gun’s name. Unfortunately, O’Connell’s character appears to be armed with some variant of the Beretta 92 in this film, completely undermining my gun pun. /k/ and other nerds would lash out at my poor recognition, but even if it were the correct gun, normies wouldn’t understand my reference. Not many people seem to realize this, but it’s up to writers, not editors or interns or what have you, to provide pictures with captions for these articles. I hate it. I spent more time trying to make this blurb work than I did formulating this entire review. “Why get so hung up over it,” you say? I spend every article trying to measure up to my ace trifecta of captions from my STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT review, but my fellow staff members constantly assure me that was my peak. I want to prove them wrong, but also I want to prove to myself that I CAN improve, and it’s a battle that I’m constantly losing. This is what I have to deal with, like it wasn’t bad enough I had to go out and pay to see this very OK movie. 

The problem with MONEY MONSTER is that its script isn’t necessarily awful or even clichéd. Dialogue is natural and the film is self-aware enough to know when to poke fun at itself. Tension is built and maintained effectively over the tight timespan. It’s confounding then that MONEY MONSTER chooses to be lazy in what is an otherwise solid framework. Because it’s largely set in a TV studio, MONEY MONSTER is able to seamlessly and diegetically transition to other locations, such as the NYPD’s mobile HQ and anchors at separate locations, through the monitors of the station. Yet the film, on numerous occasions, crudely cuts to locales like Africa and Korea with little to no context, in addition to the obligatory and unneccessary reaction shots from random people watching the show at different venues. The sad truth is that MONEY MONSTER could easily have been a great found footage film, but chooses instead to play it safe and provide a rather tepid presentation.

The film is handily led by both Clooney and O’Connell, with both perfectly capturing the fear, confusion, and incompetence that comes with being placed in such a futile situation. O’Connell in particular is stunning here, starring in what might be his first great role after fairly disappointing showings in both ‘71 and UNBROKEN. That is, however, as much praise as MONEY MONSTER warrants dramatically. Julia Roberts is painfully placid, existing mostly for exposition from her control room. Dominic West and Giancarlo Esposito, acting as the corrupt CEO and chief of police, respectively, are criminally underused, especially considering either character is responsible for just about every escalation in the conflict. Most troubling of all though is the Cloon himself. Lee is supposed to be the spawn of corporate greed and media banality, the worst of both worlds, but Clooney is simply too likeable to ever successfully live up to the role. Rather than challenging the audience with a deeply flawed lead, MONEY MONSTER once again serves up a lizardman who comes to understand the human virtues of kindness and compassion after 90 minutes of being shouted at and threatened with a gun.

money monster stocks

His stocks might not be a safe investment, but this film sure is

And then there’s all of the little things that seem to be requisites for getting a movie like MONEY MONSTER shot these days. Wolf Blitzer delivers the most expository newscast at the beginning of the movie. “Memes” are incorporated with a premeditation that simply doesn’t exist in the real world. There’s even the worst inclusion of someone “playing” a video game that I’ve ever seen in a film, where a character drops their controller to use a laptop while the game still plays in the background (side note: they couldn’t get a better sponsor than JUST CAUSE 3?). This pandering to a youth audience that isn’t necessarily MONEY MONSTER’s core demographic feels just as insipid as it is unwelcome, but that’s just the way the world works.

money monster dat boi

Quick, get me dat boi!

Is MONEY MONSTER a bad film? Hell no. It’s a thriller, and it succeeded in thrilling me far more than comparable rich vs poor struggles like THE PURGE: ANARCHY could ever hope to. What it is, however, is extremely wasteful, an irony given how the film claims to target the excess of the one percent. Great actors are given bit parts, great writing is given uninspired execution, and the film as a whole ultimately fails to deliver a conclusion that satisfies, as if it was missing an additional ten minutes. MONEY MONSTER is a perfectly adequate film that completely squanders its potential, trying to be edgy while taking as few risks as possible. But Wall Street is no place for the timid. Sell.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Ed Dutcher is the Video Games Editor here at Crossfader. The last time Ed had a meal that wasn't microwaved, George W. Bush was president. He only learned to read so that he could play Pokemon.

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