This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2016
Considering Oscar nominees The Big Short and Spotlight and festival hit 99 Homes, it’s clear we’re in the era of the “social issue” blockbuster. Be it about financial woes, systemic child abuse or the housing crisis, the silver screen is becoming the place to go for audiences to gain some sort of cathartic redress for the ills of our current world.
Money Monster capitalises on the contemporary outrage at banks and finance companies whose directors earn bonuses in the millions while ordinary Joes lose their homes, pensions and livelihoods. The film charts the misadventures of a smarmy, egotistical TV show host, Lee Gates, (a very convincing George Clooney) who is held hostage on live television by a disgruntled viewer who has lost his life’s fortune. Clooney’s real-life mate, Julia Roberts, is the soothing directorial voice in his ear-piece as tensions heighten on set and the finger of blame whirls.
Initially, Money Monster feels like it might be a misadventure for its well-meaning and earnest director, the two-time Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster, whose promotional interviews belie her serious, intellectual personality (the woman used the word “exigencies” on The Graeme Norton Show for goodness sake). As working class New Yorker Kyle Budwell (the excellent Jack O’Connell from Unbroken) waves his gun about and condemns Gates’ collusion in a game of stocks and shares where innocent people lose, the story feels far-fetched, not in its subject as much as its delivery. (Between them, the film’s three writers have credits as diverse as National Treasure, Rush Hour and Dear John, and as a result it takes a while for a taut, compelling thriller to emerge.)
But a third of the way in, things suddenly get interesting as the two-hander in the studio reverberates around the world. Meanwhile, an audience of captivated viewers tunes in, whether to see a man get his money back or take a bullet, it may not matter. For every cliché in the script there’s an enjoyably unexpected character revelation, and although the film’s moral won’t be an epiphany for anyone, Money Monster might be a show worth watching.