Director Jodie Foster’s hostage drama attempts to rekindle something of social and political concern that vitalised the American movies of the ‘70s. Money Monster wants to package commentary with a real time thriller, but unfortunately the result’s a limited and not especially ambitious flick, with leads and overstatement that conjure up a different decade altogether – the ‘90s. George Clooney as a Jim Cramer style pedlar of hyperbolic TV financial advice, and Julia Roberts as his cool-headed but jaded director, represent solid, if uninspired casting. Their reassuring but pedestrian presence is a proxy for the movie entire.
That may read as surprising, after all isn’t Money Monster a timely dig at the man, a reminder that the thieves responsible for corporate crime and banking fraud go unpunished at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised? This is undoubtedly the film Foster imagines she’s making, complete with Jack O’Connell as the blue collar fuck up who looks to give voice to the masses by pointing a gun at Clooney’s shyster TV host. But the impropriety he’s trying to expose is so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, so marginal by the standards of the banking collapses and market meltdowns we’ve experienced since the turn of the century, that it’s hard to share the gunman’s sense of outrage. Add to this his relative anonymity – O’Connell’s character never more than impotent or alarmed, and the movie’s empathic register, and you have a film lacking nuance, pause or crucially, given its tenuous link with reality, grit.
Foster, it seems, just can’t generate the requisite tension, despite the intrigue and mystery built into the setup. It’s pretensions to political acuity aside, we’ve seen this kind of siege drama executed with greater dramatic integrity and human interest in the likes of Dog Day Afternoon and F. Gary Gray’s The Negotiator. Money Monster’s a predictable and unconvincing movie by comparison. Inevitably in these stories, the hostage develops an affinity with and interest in the hostage taker, and so it goes here. In fact, everything about Foster’s film looks reheated, bar one genuinely funny scene in which O’Connell’s girlfriend subverts the usual role of such partners, to soften up the gunman, with a brutal verbal attack on his masculinity and intelligence. It’s the movie’s only solid rug pull, and even here it’s employed in the traditional way, as a means, albeit unconventional, of generating sympathy for the man with good intentions, in over his head.
Ultimately there’s very little to Money Monster, not even a beast made of cash. Clooney does his smarmy shtick, Roberts is kind and considerate, and O’Connell deserves better. It’s watchable, but there’s no escaping the feeling that its targets feel slight in a world where people have lost more than stocks – homes, savings, employment prospects, and cuts to the public purse in reparation to thieves. These, surely, are the real consequences of profligacy, usury and casino banking. Recent examinations – J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call and Adam McKay’s Big Short, made the point very powerfully. By comparison, Foster’s movie feels tame and redundant.