Wednesday 13 December 2017

Money Monster movie review: 'formulaic but entertaining thriller, but Jack O'Connell could learn that less is more'

Jodie Foster's financial thriller is trite but fun

Bravado: George Clooney stars alongside Julia Roberts in 'Money Monster'.
Bravado: George Clooney stars alongside Julia Roberts in 'Money Monster'.

Paul Whitington

In 2005, a crass and voluble former hedge fund manager called Jim Cramer launched a new kind of financial TV show on CNBC. On 'Mad Money', Mr Cramer dressed up as a chef, made silly noises, pressed ominously large red buttons and threw coffee cups and other missiles around the studio in order to illustrate his point, which was that anyone could make a packet off the stock market by moving their money around fast and listening to him.


He spoke loudly and with great confidence, and among his sure thing recommendations was a natty little Manhattan investment bank called Bear Stearns. Then 2008 happened, and Mr Cramer didn't look so smart.

Jim Cramer was undoubtedly the model for the character George Clooney plays in 'Money Monster', a broad strokes thriller solidly directed by Jodie Foster. But despite its echoes of the global financial crash, the film feels more like something from the 1970s, a broad and half-hearted liberal attack on corporate greed that will entertain many, but inform absolutely no one.

There are echoes of 'Dog Day Afternoon', and most especially the 1976 classic 'Network', and although no one actually says "we're mad as hell, and we're not going to take this any more," you get the feeling they really want to.

Lee Gates is obnoxious to a fault and swaggers around the studio with ludicrous bravado during his daily broadcasts on 'Money Monster'. He deals in terms of financial absolutes, and talks about the stock market as though conquering it were mere child's play. But Mr Gates is far from infallible, and has just proved it.

The day before, the stock of a tech company called IBIS that Gates had been wildly promoting crashed suddenly, due to an apparent glitch in a trading algorithm, wiping $800 million off its value.

Gales is busily describing all this as a minor speed bump when a man posing as a courier bursts into the studio, unleashes a gun and forces the host to put on an explosive vest. His is Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell), a labourer from Queens who invested his life savings on Gates' advice and has now lost everything.

He's mad as hell and wants someone to atone for his tragedy so, insisting that the cameras be kept rolling, demands that he get to talk to IBIS's boss, Walt Camby (Dominic West).

He, however, is nowhere to be found, and as a tense stand-off ensues, it's left to two women to keep things from kicking off.

Lee's long-time, long suffering director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) whispers instructions into Lee Gates' earpiece, and helps him play the young man and establish a relationship with him.

Meanwhile, at the IBIS headquarters, communications director Diane Lester (a rather starchy Catriona Balfe) is beginning to smell a rat. And the police have grown tired of waiting, and sent snipers sneaking through the TV studio's eaves.

This siege thriller aspect is efficiently handled by Jodie Foster, and for the first hour or so an agreeable level of tension is sustained. And while you initially hope that Gates will get blown to kingdom come, you gradually warm to both him and his captor.

But 'Money Monster' lacks the heft of financial crash films like 'The Big Short' and 'Margin Call', and has little of substance to say other than the obvious: corporations are greedy, and you should probably stash your money under the bed rather than investing it.

The pleasures of 'Money Monster' come from watching old pros like Clooney and Ms Roberts negotiate their way effortlessly through this formulaic but entertaining thriller. George goes for it as the obnoxious Gates, and his earpiece dialogues with Roberts form the dramatic heart of the film.

Jack O'Connell could learn a lot from them, specifically that less is more: he's a very talented young actor, but tries way too hard at times, and the less said about his New York accent the better.

Money Monster (15A, 99mins

Irish Independent

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