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Director: Jodie Foster
Writers: Jamie Linden (screenplay), Alan DiFiore (screenplay)
Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Dominic West, Jack O'Connell
The ever-common movie theme of a disgruntled (insert occupation) who breaks onto the airwaves is nothing new and is a very specific genre that walks a thin line, much like the characters who populate the stories. It takes more than just tension and action, it takes intelligence to raise the right questions and offer, if not the proper answers, the ability to challenge the audience to interpret their own. Jodie Foster‘s latest, Money Monster, has a solid story and some strong performances, but as thriller falls short and as a education, offers only what we’ve see and heard many times before.
It starts with Lee Gates (George Clooney) preparing to go live on his popular cable network money show. In his ear is his producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), who is always one step a head, a smooth talking, hard-nose who knows the business and her star all to well. The shows begins like any other, with dancing girls and lots of flash, but behind the set, a fake delivery man works his way onto the set with some boxes, He gets on stage and pulls out a gun, taking Lee hostage, strapping him into a bomb-vest. He demands to speak to the CEO of IBIS, Walt Camby (Dominic West), the head of the company that lost $800 million, and is supposed to be a guest on the show but didn’t make it. Now it’s up to Lee to keep Kyle (Jack O’Connell) calm until a solution can be found.
The crux of the story relies on the relationship between Gates and Fenn as she directs him from the production booth, a situation that feels familiar of course. She sees the situation as an opportunity and begins to ‘produce’ the standoff, giving direction to remaining cameramen and crew in the booth. Meanwhile, Gates tries to form a bond with Kyle as police snipers move in and a worldwide audience tunes in.
The confines of the studio help bolster the tension and create the proper sense of claustrophobia, but just past the midway point, the film shifts to the streets and loses any sure footing it earned. Yet the larger issue is the numerous contrived moments and unimaginative direction. Worse, the script is hampered by several awkward sequences that fall flat, including, unfortunately, much of Robert’s role. Fenn is a trope-ish character that falls in line with every other TV producer we’ve seen in the booth, and brings nothing to the part that is innovative or inspiring. It feels oddly mechanical and lifeless, which is too bad, because it’s the moments between her and Clooney that should be the strongest. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Broadcast News and the wonderful dynamic between Holly Hunter and William Hurt as producer and news anchor or the more recent television series, The Newsroom with Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels. These are characters that work in symbiosis, and because so, give their stories the charm and drive that makes them so effective. There is none of that here, and it might be said this is the point, as Fenn, we discover, was planning to leave him, but it doesn’t help the story and even that information feels forced and tacked on. It’s disappointing because that’s what we want to happen. We want to see them fix this problem cleverly, out of earshot of Kyle. It even teases that it will be so, but never happens satisfactorily.
Clooney fares better, but not by much. He’s strapped to a bomb for most of the duration, and while he is very convincing as the host of the television show, he too is burdened with some poorly written dialog. But the blame must fall on the otherwise talented Foster, who can’t settle on a proper style and depends far too much on the obvious clichés. Security is lax, the police negotiator is clueless, a trusty cameraman is, well, trusty, a girlfriend is pregnant, and so on. There are odd moments of awkward comedy as well, especially with an employee and a bottle of erection cream that comes out of nowhere and generates no laughs, but is also poorly timed and questionable as to why it was included in the first place. This not a solitary example, either.
Overall, Money Monster should have been a more skillfully constructed work of bitterness at the financial industry and while it has a few well-directed and promising moments, it can’t live up to its potential.