Although Money Monster was directed by Jodie Foster, it bears all the hallmarks of George Clooney’s faux-70s political filmmaking sensibilities. I say faux, because they’re political-lite in every aspect, which makes this movie possibly more irritating than if it were just your bog-standard, shameless Hollywood spectacle. One-part post-Financial Crisis commentary and one-part Network-style exploration of the pervasive influence of the im/amoral media circus, it ends up as neither of those things, failing even to lay sufficient groundwork to sacrifice its intentions to standard thriller plotting and emotional pay-offs. It’s resolutely spineless, basically.
For a while there, I was all on board with Clooney’s (apparent) lofty ideals, in wanting to make movies that had some kind of substance, starting with Three Kings and taking in Fail Safe, Syriana, Michael Clayton, The Informant! and even The Men Who Stare at Goats. But there’s an increasingly equivocal and antiseptic quality to the way his producing credits rip any real anger, vitality and, most of all, danger from the material he’s attached himself to. Whether it’s The Ides of March, or Argo or Our Brand is Crisis (and two of those are decent, if unspectacular, movies), he ensures his oversight moulds and packages product in the most palatable and digestible form, and I’d argue the (presumed) trade-off of reaching more viewers isn’t remotely worth the loss of quality and depth. It certainly isn’t the ’70s way, if you’re looking at the very best ’70s pictures as a guideline (this hostage taker is more John Q than Dog Day Afternoon).
And Jodie Foster’s feature output falls into that rather listless, ambivalent category too, comfortable movies made by cossetted Hollywood royalty. Foster isn’t remotely a great director, as witnessed by The Beaver, which at least had potential to be really out there until she bludgeoned it into conformity (although, I don’t think she even did that; she was just terribly nice towards it). What Money Monster needed was the kind of apoplectic raging of her character in The Brave One, whose dog got snatched and led to her going bonkos with a gun.
What it is, is your standard studio approach of setting up an interesting issue and proceeding to demolish it with fakery, with ludicrous plot twists and unconvincing (“satisfying”) bringing of the villain to justice; what does it matter that the real financial crisis hasn’t receded, and is due to hit home even harder any day now, when you can make believe that just one guy is to blame? And what does it matter if the hard-pressed hostage-taker is killed, because, well, he was a bit of an idiot anyway? And doesn’t George look appropriately aggrieved at the end, and maybe he’ll even develop a thing with Julia?
There’s something corny and out of touch about the whole set up anyway, with Clooney’s Lee Gates, host of financial tipster show Money Monster, translating as a very ’90s nightmare media star. So, when you add to that the hostage situation – now Kyle (Jack O’Connell, acting his socks off like it matters, poor guy) would be taking out twenty or thirty people, and we’d all be looking for the false flag involved – nothing in the brew even begins to suspend disbelief.
That’s before Lee reveals himself to be an entirely reasonable guy – why couldn’t he be an unreconstituted nightmare, played by R Lee Ermey or JK Simmons – and gets on board with the desperate, sad fool as a pat case of fraud manifests itself. When Lee starts talking about the sham mechanics of the Dow Jones in the first scene, there’s a glimmer that we might be taking on the entire artifice of global capitalism, but that soon succumbs to Dominic West’s simplistically hissable villain, who tried something that didn’t work and won’t even apologise.
There’s a very occasional dramatic uplift, such as the scene in which Kyle’s girlfriend Molly (Emily Meade) launches into a splenetic tirade at her sad-sack bf (“You’re a bitch… Shoot yourself in the head already! Pull the fucking trigger!”). And, if predictable, the set-tos on-set have a certain energy. But once the movie opts to leave the studio and sort things out, it completely lost me.
Money Monster’s ineffectual, and seems almost proud of itself for being so. Foster keeps it moving along, but it’s relentlessly shallow, glib even; perhaps in another’s hands the ending, in which TV news carries cheerfully on as a YouTube mash-up meme of Camby plays, would have had some bite, but in Foster’s take Kyle has been entirely forgotten, and there’s nary a hint of satire in the whole shebang. I suspect Money Monster would only have worked as that; while its makers may not be chumps, on this evidence they’re witless. The movie’s as outmoded as Michael Mann’s Blackhat, suggesting old and out-of-touch moviemakers stumbling around in the dark struggling to locate the light switch of relevance.