Feeding the monster
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
Directed By Jodie Foster
George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Caitriona Balfe, Dominic West, Dennis Boutsikaris, Lenny Venito
Sony, Rated R, Drama, 98 minutes
Attempting to generate a sense of urgency from a hostage situation, “Money Monster” somewhat succeeds as a thought-provoking drama, but misses the mark as the thriller it wants to be.
Penned by the talented trio, Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf, and directed by Jodie Foster, the film harpoons Wall Street, Hedge Funds, financial journalists, and especially, Jim Kramer’s “Mad Money,” airing on CNBC.
The story posits that “Money Monster” host Lee Gates (George Clooney) has shamelessly and repeatedly pushed “Ibis” as a can’t-miss stock. Subsequently, the stock tanked, costing at least one investor his life savings. He is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a working class stiff with his first baby on the way. Angry and desperate for answers, Kyle invades the set of Gates’s “Money Monster” show, where he takes the pundit hostage at gunpoint.
The show’s producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), watches in horror from the control room outfitted with a dozen monitors. A resolute professional, Fenn forsakes a personal life, and now risks her own, in this perilous situation. She calmly doles out instructions, via Gates’s omnipresent ear piece, to help him reach out to the hostage-taker. All this, despite Fenn’s eagerness, to Gates’s show because he fails to treat her with the respect she deserves.
O’Connell tries to inhabit an erratic Budwell, and Clooney invests Gates with as much empathy as a consummate showman might muster. But, the film overreaches by asking us to view Budwell as a sympathetic villain and all-around Everyman. No one, except the on-scene swat team, believes Budwell will follow through with blowing up the studio, even though he’s forced Gates to don a suicide bomber’s vest. With one sniper aiming at Budwell’s head, and another awaiting the opportunity to shoot and disable the bomb’s receiver situated atop Gates’s gut, the ante is upped — until Fenn learns of the strategy and warns Gates.
Nevertheless, the connection between Gates and Fenn, and the degree to which he needs her clearheaded direction as events unfold, comes off credibly.
Prior to this episode of the show, the Ibis CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) was a scheduled as a “Money Monster” video conference guest. Since Budwell feels Camby stole his money, he has chosen this day to arrive, only to learn Camby is unavailable. Nevertheless, Budwell demands an explanation for what went wrong, leaving Camby’s right-hand exec Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe), to explain she is looking into it.
During the ensuing minutes, Gates, Fenn and Lester begin to suspect wrongdoing, prompting them to do what financial journalists have not —mine surveillance footage and follow a paper trail, in an effort to learn the truth about the Ibis stock crash.
The film, which calls for Gates and Budwell to eventually take to the streets, gives up a share of its claustrophobic tension and the credible locations of “Money Monster’s” control room and set. Realizing a few simple changes would allow the action to unfold entirely within the studio, the film’s possibilities as a Broadway play (where it would likely be a runaway hit), can’t be ignored.
While highlighting the plight of 99-percenters is a noble goal, “Money Monster” is less effective in doing so than hoped. Despite its shortcomings, the film boasts excellent performances and the wish fulfillment of seeing crooked one-percenters found out. Fair warning to those wishing for an expose on par with “The Big Short,” or “Money Ball” — you’re in for a “Monster” disappointment.
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