“Greed is good” – Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in 1987’s Wall Street
Money Monster from director Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts is another movie set in the world of Wall Street. In the wake of 2014’s The Wolf of Wall Street and the outstanding 2015 film The Big Short, comparisons are inevitable. But Money Monster is not a look at the how the market collapsed in 2008.
“Lee Gates” (Clooney) is the host of the television program “Money Monster” and his over-the-top presentation has earned him a legion of fans. It is business as usual as the film opens with Lee sparring with his producer, “Patty Fenn” (Roberts) just before the show goes lives. The usual routine is shattered when a deliveryman enters the closed set and fires a gun into the ceiling. We learn later that he is “Kyle Budwell” (Jack O’Connell) and he forces Lee to don an explosive vest. Kyle is holding a dead man switch in one hand and a gun in the other and his threat to start killing people keeps the network from taking the live feed off the air.
Kyle is angry because his life savings of $60,000 was lost in the $800 million dollar meltdown at IBIS Capital. Renowned for making money all the time due to cutting edge trading algorithms, the loss is being attributed to a software glitch. The CEO of IBIS, “Walt Camby” (Dominic West) was supposed to be on the show with Lee but he was a last minute no-show. The Chief Communications Officer of IBIS “Diane Lester” (Caitriona Balfe) is the fill-in for Camby but her recitation of the talking points prepared to pitch softball questions to Camby infuriates Kyle even more.
The police are eager to do anything they can to prevent Kyle from setting off the bomb and when they learn that the triggering device on the vest could possibly be shot without killing Lee, they begin planning on this as a last resort. Meanwhile Lee, aided and abetted by Patty and Diane attempt to uncover the real cause of the $800 million disappearing.
Money Monster is not the indictment of gratuitous greed among Wall Street types that other films like The Big Short and Inequality for All are. This is a straightforward hostage drama where the motivation for the hostage taker is the avarice of specific individuals. It can’t quite be called a dramedy although there are some moments that were clearly inserted for laughs. This was done very effectively. While the moments that George Clooney and Julia Roberts are in physical proximity on screen are few and far between, their ongoing dialogue makes their usual chemistry work quite well.
As an actress, Jodie Foster is among the best as evidenced by her two Oscars for Best Actress in a Lead Role. Her three prior big screen directorial efforts were not quite so stellar. They weren’t bad but they weren’t brilliant either. However this is probably her best effort behind the camera thus far. She provides easily watchable images while keeping the tension just taut enough for a hostage drama. It is worth checking out.