With the world’s economy teetering on the end of a precipice, it should come as no surprise that Hollywood has started looking at Wall Street as a source of story material. This renewed interest gave us last year’s Oscar-nominated The Big Short, an enticing look at the recent collapse of the world’s banking system, and has now brought us Money Monster. In this star vehicle, director Jodie Foster clearly aims to attack those banking institutions and offer the viewer a riveting thriller at the same time – sadly, she manages neither, and Money Monster is a muddled mess of a movie that its big stars cannot save.
Our movie begins with a bunch of news broadcasts filling us in on a shock situation in Wall Street – a glitch in a trading algorithm caused the stock in IBIS Clear Capital to crater, costing investors $800 million. The next day, Wall Street guru Lee Gates (George Clooney), whose show Money Monster sees him pick hot stocks, is interrupted during a live broadcast by a disgruntled investor in IBIS, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell). Budwell has lost everything, and is looking for some answers. Gates is able to communicate with his longtime producer Patty (Julia Roberts), and the two must figure out how to defuse the situation and disarm the angry young man.
Foster’s fourth film as director is a competent, if not a particularly inspired one. She is at ease with her stars, but somewhat less successful as a manipulator of suspense. Money Monster never really feels thrilling, as such: it feels as though it is treading through the motions with no heart, marching towards its obvious foregone conclusion long before the characters clock onto it.
Fortunately, any issues in the telling of the story are less problematic because of our lead actors. There are solid performances in this film – Julia Roberts has the least to physically do, spending most of the picture behind a desk but exuding an air of calm at the centre of the crisis. Clooney plays the Wall Street guru with a mix of affable swarminess, his likability shining through (as always).
The dynamic between Clooney and Roberts really gels, so it’s such a shame that nothing else in this film really does. The script in particular lets our actors down. Although the performances are good, they aren’t handled particularly well. Clooney evolves too quickly from buffoon to wise counselor for it to even register, and O’Connell really suffers. His flips from angry and shouting to emotional render him a pantomime villain who gnarls and screams for effect, but one for whom the film wants us to have tons of sympathy too, and it can’t have it both ways. Having Clooney feel sorry for him in what can only be sudden-onset Stockholm syndrome doesn’t make him a sympathetic character.
Economics is a frankly tedious subject – there is a massive amount of manipulation required to render it both understandable and gripping, and Money Monster doesn’t manage to do either particularly well. This is a film where the limit of economic knowledge seems to be that the value of shares can go down as well as up, and any attempt to paint something more complex comes across as half-hearted. More complicated concepts are brushed upon at best, and the film’s denouement requires the viewer to buy into a large-scale it hasn’t really laid any economic groundwork for, unless you count the odd word here and there. Similarly, an attempt by Gates to manipulate the stock market and save his life is one of the more shallow bits of cinema I’ve seen this year, whacking out an economic deus ex machine with added doses of pounding music and Clooney sincerity which practically beg the viewer to care.
There are parts of Money Monster that suggest it wants to make a statement of some description. The film’s social commentary feels very heavy-handed but in aligning us with Gates, very much a figure of the establishment, it is not really apparent what stance in is taking. It aims to attack the big bankers, or make some comment about how money is controlling our lives, but the handling is a bit befuddled and the film’s message is never that clear. At times it wants to hate on Wall Street, but in focusing the discussion on one fictional CEO, it feels a very blank attack that is bashing a banker because that’s what you do.
The tone of Money Monster is misjudged throughout. At times, the film is humorous and at others, it is gunning for thrilling, but not really managing either, and it is this lack of cohesion that makes the movie suffer. The performances of our leads are good, but they don’t really have anything to do and they can’t lift the film above being a confused mess. For a film that has bad investments at its heart, paying for a ticket to see Money Monster is a startlingly good example of one.