George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O'Connell excel in this urgent, edge-of-your-seat thriller.
With The Big Short and Nightcrawler still fresh in moviegoer's memories, Money Monster isn't the first film to ponder the impact of the global financial crisis, or peer into the television business in times of trouble. Nor is the best, boldest or even most star-studded contemplation of either topic. Instead, it's a solid thriller that may repeat a few statements we've already heard, but does so with a stellar command of tension and tone. If the pressure-fuelled dramas of the '70s combined with the beat-the-clock action efforts of the '90s, something like Money Monster would be the end result.
Lee Gates (George Clooney), the host of the financial TV program that gives the movie its name, certainly seems like a remnant from another decade. His show would've been huge in the late '00s, and his exaggerated on-screen persona, loud proclamations, cheesy costumes and skimpily clad back-up dancers along with it. But a week after one of Gates' hot stock tips crashes, Money Monster's live broadcast is hijacked by the gun-wielding Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell). The Queens delivery guy has lost all his savings, wants answers, and is willing to strap a bomb to Gates' chest to get them — while the world, and the show's director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), watch on.
Screenwriters Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf are content to litter their script with more than a few convenient, predictable developments: Gates knows the failing company's head honcho (Dominic West), Budwell has a pregnant girlfriend at home, and Fenn is about to jump ship for a job at a rival network. However director Jodie Foster (The Beaver) proves determined to let the unease of the situation, and the performances it inspires, drive the film.
The result is a film that's stressed and enraged from beginning to end, content in the knowledge that its audience feels the same. Foster endeavours to capture the incredulous, furious reaction the bulk of the population had to recent economic circumstances, channeling it into one heightened scenario and bearing witness to the fiery results. Every technical choice, be it the grey sheen of the film's visuals, the swift speed of its editing or the terse beats of its score, is calculated to promote a very precise mood. Even when the formula behind the film is obvious – and even with Foster offering a few humorous moments to lighten things up – Money Monster still delivers an urgent, edge-of-your-seat experience.
She's aided in her efforts by the top work of her cast. Playing charismatic and controlled, Clooney and Roberts demonstrate why they've stayed at the top of the acting game for so long, though it's O'Connell that commands attention. Against his high-profile co-stars, he proves a bundle of raw, restless energy perfectly suited to the film's tone.