MONEY MONSTER (2016), the new drama/thriller directed by Jodie Foster, and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, has the right idea. It tells a story about the “little guy” fighting back against Wall Street greed, but it takes the wrong approach, as none of what transpires on screen is all that believable.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a hot shot TV celebrity who hosts a show on the wheelings and dealings of Wall Street, and it’s a show that’s full of flashy pizzazz. His director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) is his right hand person and keeps him in line on the air. However, unbeknownst to him, she’s in the midst of her final broadcast as she’s leaving for another network.
In the middle of the show, a man appears on stage and suddenly starts shooting. He then forces Lee to put on a vest armed with a bomb, and he holds the detonator in his hand. Anyone messes with him, and he’ll blow up the building, on live TV no less, and it’s being shown live because he orders the cameras to keep rolling.
We learn that the man’s name is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), and he lost all his money when the company Lee had told his viewers was a sure thing and a safer investment than a savings account goes belly up. This company supposedly lost its funds due to a program glitch. The man who runs the company, Walt Camby (Dominic West) was supposed to be a guest on Lee’s show that day but cancelled at the last minute. Not only did he cancel, but he seems to have gone into hiding, just when his company misplaced billions of dollars. Hmm.
As the police move in, Lee is advised to keep Kyle talking, and he does, but in the process Lee begins to listen to what Kyle is saying and he realizes that perhaps this deranged young man has a point and he decides to use his influence to get to the bottom of the financial disaster which took Kyle’s money.
Yeah, right. Look, I know you have a gun pointed at me, and you made me put on this vest with a bomb which you could explode at any second, but I find your story compelling, feel bad for you, and want to help you.
Er— I don’t think so.
And therein lies the central problem I had with this film. I just didn’t believe it. For this story to work, you really have to suspend disbelief. A lot.
For example, take the set-up. Kyle walks onto the set so easily he might as well have been holding a printed invitation! Sure, he’s disguised as a delivery man, but even a guy wearing a delivery suit and carrying boxes shouldn’t be allowed such easy access to the set of a live news program. I mean, where is the security to this building? Watching the broadcast, I guess!
Speaking of that live broadcast, one of the stipulations that Kyle makes once he forces Lee to wear the bomb suit is that the broadcast continue live. He wants the world to hear his story. To make sure this is done, Kyle is watching the broadcast on his phone. With little choice, Patty agrees and the broadcast goes on. So far so good. I buy this.
I also buy that the broadcast needs to be shown to the world for the story to work. My problem is I just don’t see this as really happening. To me, once the police get involved, that broadcast is going to be shut down. I just don’t buy that they would allow Kyle access to the outside world.
The police are terribly ineffective here. They decide early on to sneak some sharpshooters onto the set but it takes nearly the entire movie for them to get into position, and when they do, they come up with the brilliant plan of shooting TV host Lee Gates because by doing so they will knock out the detontator, rendering the bomb harmless.
At one point a whole slew of officers converge on the set and yet they still aren’t able to apprehend Kyle.
Also, George Clooney’s Lee Gates is way too sympathetic towards Kyle. First of all, he seems to be the type of person- brash fast-talking TV host— who would not be sympathetic towards a man like Kyle. But more than that is the situation itself. I understand that audiences are supposed to identify with Kyle and his story, making Lee’s sympathy towards him acceptable, but the guy has a gun which he shoots frequently, has a bomb wired to Lee’s chest, and seems completely unhinged. I just didn’t buy the sympathy, not as fast as it happened, anyway. Perhaps after the fact, folks might have looked back and felt bad for the guy, but during an armed standoff and hostage situation? That’s a stretch.
The acting is quite good, though.
I’m usually hit or miss with George Clooney, depending on the role and the movie. I liked Clooney a lot here, and he gave his character Lee Gates lots of pizzazz and energy. More importantly, he makes Lee likeable, which considering the character’s personality isn’t the easiest thing to do.
I also enjoyed Julia Roberts as his director Patty Fenn. She and Clooney have an easy camraderie and their characters’ relationship— when you see how much they care for each other— heightens the suspense when things get rough.
And Jack O’Connell is very good as the desperate and deranged Kyle Budwell. You definitely feel bad for the guy, although I would stop short of giving him the keys to the city and a platform on which to tell the world his story. Lose the gun and the bombs and maybe I’d feel differently.
The supporting cast is solid. Caitriona Balfe is good as Diane Lester, the spokeswoman for the company which lost all Kyle’s money. At first, she defends her employer, but as she learns more about her boss, she questions that loyalty.
Both Christopher Denham and Lenny Venito stand out in smaller roles, Denham as one of Lee’s producers and Venito as a cameraman.
However, Giancarlo Esposito (Gus from TV’s BREAKING BAD as well as countless other roles) is somewhat wooden here as Police Captain Powell. He showed more range just using his voice as Akela in THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016). And Dominic West makes for a rather disappointing “villain” as Walt Camby, the man at the top of the “evil” company. He looks like he walked off the set of an EXPENDABLES movie, ready to trade barbs with Sylvester Stallone.
I also enjoyed the direction by Jodie Foster, as a lot of the stand-off scenes generate the required suspense.
The best scene in the movie is when the police locate Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend Molly (Emily Meade) and connect her to a live feed in the hope that she will talk some sense into her boyfriend. What she says is not exactly what the police were hoping for. It’s explosive, brutal, and on live TV for all the world to see.
And while the suspense generally builds as the movie goes along, the ending does get a bit carried away.
The screenplay by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf is a mixed bag. The story itself is rather contrived, but the dialogue is very good. The humor is especially sharp. That being said, it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as THE BIG SHORT (2015) which had a similar message but was more successful in making its point. The message in MONEY MONSTER isn’t quite as honed, and it gets bogged down in sentimentality.
MONEY MONSTER has its heart in the right place, but it allows this heart to get in the way of its storytelling.