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Money Monster

An entertaining hostage-drama piece that flirts with critiquing what’s wrong with Wall Street, TV and us

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The financial crash of 2008 was too big, too complex and, perhaps, too painful to be transformed into popular but probing entertainment. Sure, we got some good stern-talking Frontlines and similar-style docs, and last year’s The Big Short found the sweet spot between pitch-black hilarity and righteous outrage. One problem was that there were just so many culpable players in the meltdown. When I saw the previews for Jodie Foster’s Money Monster, I thought: “Ah, now somebody’s calling bullshit on the financial ‘news’ entertainment sector.”

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the slick, smug host of a cable-TV show called Money Monster, and his shtick is hyperbolic drive-time. But Gates’ previous on-air hyping of a “hot” stock pick (since tanked) has driven an everyman, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), to barge onto the live show to hold Gates accountable. Budwell straps Gates into a bomb vest and weepily recounts his money matters (a.k.a. “lost everything”), all while Gates’ producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), keeps the show on the air.

Money Monster unfolds in real time, and is fairly entertaining as a basic madman-hostage-cops genre piece. There are some jumps to seemingly random spots beyond Manhattan (Iceland, South Africa, South Korea) that eventually make sense. And though we get the requisite reaction shots of folks gathering around TVs to watch the craziness unfold, Foster chooses not to rigorously interrogate the viewers’ role. (Naturally, Budwell demands the cameras stay on, and naturally, the global TV village watches.) Monster occasionally veers into dark comedy, and I hoped perhaps this would be Foster’s avenue into sharper critique … of something.

But in the end, any criticism of the machine, be it the financial sector or its media handmaidens, is subsumed by a procedural indicting the villain (singular — just one bad guy!). Bomb-toting Budwell and soulless-rich-jerk Gates get rehabilitated via basic movie tropes. Heroes!

The overwhelming ethos of Money Monster isn’t “Wall Streets sucks,” “you bet, the little guy is angry” or even “too much information is just making us dumber,” but the show must go on. Perhaps not surprising from a director who has been a steady presence in show biz since she was 7. The film rallies most fiercely around Fenn’s admirable ability to produce a TV show on the fly — while sitting next to a bomb — and juggling a dozen off-site sources to craft a breaking-news narrative on a complex topic. Oh, and keep a guy on live TV from shooting the host or himself. Or as Gates lovingly says to her immediately before airtime: “Just point the camera in my direction and we’ll figure it out together.” Great show, people!

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