Money Monster (2016) (Review)

Money Monster is quite the season anomaly. With metaphorical Oscar bait and adult-skewing dramas usually positioned at the tail end of the year (November, December, January), producers decided to test its fate in the middle of the summer blockbuster season which is already crammed with superheroes, animation and tentpoles. Jodie Foster takes directorial reins for this release which stars George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O'Connell in this hostage drama thriller.

The arrogant Lee Gates' (Clooney) Money Monster segment - in which he gives financial tips and Wall Street hints to economically vulnerable audiences - is interrupted by bankrupt viewer Kyle Budwell (O'Connell) who lost money inherited following the death of his money because of one of Gates' tips, armed with a gun and suicide vest for Gates. Producer Patty Fenn (Roberts) must attempt to keep the situation under control while attempting to locate the person responsible for the 'human error' in the algorithm that generates the financial stock and advice. With the volatile and unpredictable Budwell loosing patience, it's a race against time to save their lives.

If I based the film on the first fifteen minutes, I would have pretty much walked out after 30. Thankfully, it's not too long before the wheels are set into motion and fires within fires begin, with electrifying performances from our three lead performers. Clooney manages to bring pathos to the initially arrogant and self-important show host, oozing the self-righteousness that we evidently see diminish as the scenario heats up. Roberts is very much the emotional heart of the film, almost hopelessly attempting to bide their time while work on a way of escaping the almost impossible situation. O'Connell, however, is the absolute winner of this film; his desperation and helplessness is evident from the first moment until the last, displaying a man pushed to the absolute edge and becoming a shell of a man as the film progresses, defenceless and hopeless. The three principals make up for the generally uninspiring secondary, supporting cast - almost all are as one dimensional as they come, with the possible exception of Caitriona Balfe as PR lady Diane Lester. All being said, it is successfully held together by Jodie Foster, who continues the intensity throughout the film with skilled camera movements and decisions.

Undeniably, the film is thrilling. As we move through the action alongside the characters, the audience is desperately attempting to think of ways they can escape the danger they face, while at the same time wanting redemption for the 'antagonist' of the film (who, in a way, becomes the tragic hero of the piece). All of this is bolstered by main themes of the film, including the loss of media integrity and business' questionable motives. Cynicism is continues indefinitely throughout the film, particularly towards its themes and characters, intriguing from the audience's perspective, who wait with bated breath as we race towards the climax. Once you've put the film's first 15 minutes firmly behind you, the pacing is sharp and speedy with everything serving a purpose; it could have very easily felt boring, considering the action occurs mainly in the same room, but peppered throughout are cross-cuts to reaction's and outsiders, which help the film move along nicely, matched well with the change and momentum towards the final face-off. This, however, is where the film becomes a little convoluted. 

It's complicated because of the straightforward answer the film gives to its more universal, wide-spreading question. Without revealing too much, it felt that the film needed a quick conclusion, pining the blame of market downfalls and economic crashes on one person. It feels like a quick get-out, in all honestly, and slowly becomes increasingly unrealistic. Furthermore, the film is interrupted by short bursts of comedy, uneasily adding this unnecessary tone that distracts from the message of the film and the tone it is trying to create. I understand the importance of tonal balance but Money Monster botches it, a lot of the time. It's attempt at being satirical is never pushed far enough for it to be throughly convincing and so the comedic element never really belongs. While we do have a couple of genuinely surprising and sudden twists come to fruition, it borders into paint-by-number territory more than it probably should, quite rarely stepping outside the hostage thriller template. A few issues, but grumbles nonetheless.

Money Monster is an undeniably taut and thrilling film, moving along at a sharp pace that keeps audiences engaged enough to glance over the issues with theme and the message of the film, which reminded me of this year's Eye In The Sky in a few ways. The three key players are all strong additions and their chemistry and communication helps audience's care for them (more than the first 15 minutes would have you believe, at least). Jodie Foster has crafted an intense film that looks at politics and economics in a far more interesting and fun way than it is usually handled (and in a FAR superior way to previous Wall Street-based film, The Big Short). You can't help but will the film to take more risks and step outside of conventions and formulas, but it is interesting enough to glance over these issues.

Highlight: Great performances from Clooney, Roberts and especially O'Connell result in an intense journey with these characters and their topical worries and woes.

Summary: Money Monster is intense and thrilling - helped by an excellent pace and solid primary cast and director - but missteps on a few occasions and doesn't always understanding its own message and themes.