Thursday, May 19, 2016

Movie Review: "Money Monster" (2016)

© TriStar Pictures

Did someone find this script in a pile of Bernie Sanders' long lost diatribes? In all seriousness though, the economic injustice and Wall Street-focused vitriol may be conveniently timed to hit the big screen this year (and I'm more than positive that this isn't he only Sanders joke to pop up in a review for Money Monster.) Directed by Jodie Foster and featuring a small but impressive cast, this is a layered story with a compelling premise that suffers from its inability to see the bigger picture—or perhaps its inability to understand how far the corrupt will go to hide their corruption. That makes for a remarkably underwhelming thriller.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) may be the hottest television star talking Wall Street and hot stocks on his show "Money Monster," but when the powerful Ibis Clear Capital loses hundreds of millions of dollars overnight due to a computer glitch, Gates' most recent "Must Buy" stock takes a terrifying market tumble. With shareholders scrambling, Gates and his longtime producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) rush to take advantage of the media attention by being the first to get Ibis CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West), on their show to get the scoop.

On the day of the live broadcast, Camby is nowhere to be found, but little do they know that Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), a disgruntled investor who lost his life savings, has infiltrated the studio to take them both hostage. Now with Gates alone and held at gunpoint live on the air, Patty and her team in the control booth must track down the answers that Budwell is demanding, and it may lead them down a rabbit-hole of theft and corruption far more dangerous than the man with the gun.

Noticeably, the story starts off slow, but picks up steadily. Foster plays with escalation in this film, arguably to its detriment. As the stakes begin to drop, the information and reveals ramp up. It's an interesting shift, one that changes the dynamic of the movie, and I'm uncertain whether it was for the better. By decreasing the threats to our hero (I'll do my best not to reveal how), Foster puts all the attention on the conspiracy—something that isn't quite deep enough to scrutinize. The corruption is slight and the means to cover it up amateurish—the lack of realism isn't in that it goes too far; it's in that it doesn't go far enough. Other than the guy with a bomb strapped to his chest, real danger is never really looming when they start to get down to brass-tacks.

The highlight is in the acting talent. The chemistry between Clooney and Roberts, not to mention the history between the two, shows. Rarely in the same room, they're still side by side the entire picture, and work off of one another like old pros. Roberts looked particularly at ease in this very unglamorous role, the technical dialogue not slowing her down at all, allowing her to bring plenty of tension into the control room. For a character that rarely stands up, Peggy is active and purposeful. Her fervent advice to Clooney's Gates through his earpiece put her in a position to be the level-headed one, keeping Gates from going off the deep end—or Clooney from chewing the scenery.

Clooney is, well... he's George Clooney. He's suave and handsome and everything about him in this role makes sense. It's a bit on the nose—a womanizing television star with plenty of cash, a full day planner, and an inscrutable reputation—but who am I to question a spot-on casting decision? When you've got a surefire win, you gotta go for it. What likens Lee Gates to us here is that his smarmy charm when he's high is counteracted by his maturity and sharpness when he's low. The television persona is just an act, and watching Clooney shed it slowly throughout this whole ordeal overshadows the rest of the story.

Focusing more closely on the story reveals just how malleable all the motivations are. Roberts' Patty does her due diligence as a professional producer, but this team used to never really reporting any news are suddenly a crack team of investigative journalists capable of uncovering a [semi-]convoluted conspiracy plot? There is a lot of flurry behind the scenes, as Budwell's anxiety and fear and anger unravel, and Foster simply could not hold onto that tension. It certainly doesn't help that, in the end, there is a cloying attempt at closure and the sincere knowledge that nothing that just happened surprised us. It's fair to say, though, that watching these characters be so devastatingly shocked watching the same thing unfold might be enough to distract most viewers into thinking there was more there there.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars

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