FILM REVIEW – MONEY MONSTER. With George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito. Written by Jamie Linden and Alan DiFiore & Jim Kouf. Directed by Jodie Foster. Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence. 98 minutes.
It’s summer as far as Hollywood is concerned, and from now until late August you can count on two things: movies with superheroes, cartoon figures and cartoonish figures… and the unending Presidential campaign which may seem like it’s featuring much of the same. What’s someone looking for a grown-up movie to do? Other than arthouse films, there’s usually something out there for counterprogramming and right now it’s MONEY MONSTER, the sort of movie that Hollywood had seemed to have forgotten how to make.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, host of “Money Monster,” a cable show about investments that plays like a three-ring circus (think of CNBC’s shows like “Fast Money”). Gates has a huge ego, which is why his long-suffering producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is planning on taking another job. On this fateful day, however, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shows up in the studio with a gun and an explosive vest demanding to know why an investment Lee recommended tanked, wiping out all of Kyle’s savings.
In a little over ninety minutes, director Jodie Foster–in her first film behind the camera since the 2011 curio “The Beaver”–offers up a smart and fast-paced thriller. The script (credited to Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf from a story by the latter two) keeps throwing curve balls so we don’t get a chance to get ahead of the story. Along the way there are sharp-edged obseervations about the media, the world of high finance, and public reaction to both.
While the film offers a strong cast across the board, it’s the three leads who have to carry the action. Clooney has a field day as the fast-talking Gates, who almost always has something to say until he literally has a gun pointed to his head. Roberts continues her pivot away from glamour parts (not that she’s any less attractive) as the professional TV producer who has to improvise what amounts to live coverage of a hostage situation. O’Connell holds his own as the young man who’s not too bright–while insisting he’s not stupid–and who wants answers.
The timing of the film fits the political mood of the season no matter where you are on the spectrum, with characters claiming the system is “rigged” against the little guy and a plot twist that has a character insisting they “do the math.” Foster deftly juggles the thriller elements, the substantive plot points, and the flashes of dark humor that help to relieve the tension without turning it into a comedy.
Movies about high finance, like last year’s overrated “The Big Short,” sometimes spend so much time explaining things that they come across as ineptly made documentaries. “Money Monster” is less interested in critiquing the “system” than in showing us how small-time investors can get taken for a ride. Enjoy it while you can, as we may not be getting another major grown-up film anytime soon.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.