Money Monster

Cannes 2016: Money Monster Review

There’s more to like about Money Monster than might at first appear. The chemistry between George Clooney and Julia Roberts by now is well honed, and their director/host dynamic feels genuine. Clooney in particular seems to relish the role, delving into the dancing fool on the business network spouting off stock advice to both entertain and educate. Roberts is quite literally the voice in his head, prompting him (often to no avail) to stay on script.

Things take a turn when a disgruntled investor (Jack O’Connell) shows up as a delivery man with a deadly package in his arms. The film then shifts to a Dog Day Afternoon-meets-Network vibe, attempting to supply drama with a social and political bite.

As the story unfolds audiences are required to hold increasing disbelief. Forgetting that the central conceit of a collapsed stock is handled in a preposterously superficial way (let alone the fact that until one sells one hasn’t locked into a loss, something I tell myself about my own paltry investments), the film gets more and more ridiculous as snipers crawl into the studio, police captains scream into radios, and a bomb vest is casually traipsed through New York city with little in the way of interference (plus, I guess that large New York office buildings only have one main centrally located staircase to have an executive make a bold escape from).

Still, as mentioned it’s not all bad. We get to watch Dominic West chew on some scenes, and O’Connell brings some of his rage well honed in far better films like ’71 and Starred Up. Special mention should go to character actor Lenny Venito is enjoyable as the cameraman tasked with saying “balls” on air and seems to really get what kind of movie he’s in. Plus, there’s a terrific scene with Emily Meade as the hostage-taker’s girlfriend that ratchets up the enjoyment considerably, giving the film one its few genuine twists. It may be a tough ask, but more of that sort of dramatic interest and less of the plodding plotting would certainly have gone a long way.

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As a message film Money Monster feels both half-assed, a story that maybe would have played like gangbusters in 2008 but now feels old hat. The preachiness of the narrative, the convenience of letting the message get out with threat of terrorism, all conspired to feel like little more than advocacy porn. It’s message is hardly revelatory, and if this is the way that the bankers are meant to cathartically get comeuppance for malfeasance due to the great crash of the late-aughts then we’re probably in even worse shape than the film lets on.

The idea’s not so bad – what would happen if someone interrupted a Jim Cramer-type with threats of death to elicit the truth about financial shenanigans – but unfortunately it’s just window dressing to what at its heart is a pretty flaccid thriller. One only need to look to the neo-masterpiece Nightcrawler to see a far more effective, far more scathing look at modern media (financial or otherwise), or Spike Lee’s underappreciated Inside Man to see how to do a Dog Day-redux right. Foster’s attempt to have it both ways, to have a Hollywood thriller and a social commentary, doesn’t work out in the end, but it’s a valid attempt made by some talented people that unfortunately doesn’t amount to much.

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