If you’ve seen the CNBC stock market show “Mad Money” with Jim Cramer, you have an idea of what “Money Monster,” the fictional TV show starring Lee Gates (George Clooney) is all about.
Except for the fact that Lee Gates, besides doing a lot of excitable talking, also dons fancy outfits and brings on the dancing girls. This guy prances around in front of the cameras, bursting with energy, ignoring the prepared scripts, often to the consternation of his longtime director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts). But the show’s a hit, and a lot of viewers take the advice of this “wizard of Wall Street.”
But one day, shortly after he suggests that Ibis Clear Capital would be a good place to spend a few bucks, Ibis suffers a huge overnight loss, to the tune of $800 million of investors’ money.
And shortly after that, on a Friday, as “Money Monster” goes on the air, live of course, a “delivery man” named Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who has lost every dime on Lee’s stock tip, makes his way onto the set with a couple of packages, an angry attitude, a waving pistol, and a demand that Lee opens one of those packages and puts on an explosive vest, which will blow up him and everyone in the studio if Kyle takes his thumb off the detonator in his hand.
In the space of a couple of minutes, director Jodie Foster, who hasn’t made a film since the really weird “The Beaver” in 2011, working with a great script, terrifically transforms what was a light and breezy and funny and fast-moving beginning into a tense, nail-biting thriller.
She’s more than ably assisted by a crack cast. Clooney’s own transformation from carefree, full-of-himself blabbermouth to cringing possible victim is just the start of one of his best performances. He and Roberts establish an almost impossibly perfect chemistry considering the fact that they’re rarely onscreen together — he’s on the TV set, and she’s in the production booth, but they’re constantly sharing dialogue through the speaker in her room and the earpiece he’s wearing. And British actor O’Connell, who starred as Louis Zamperini in “Unbroken,” makes a whole new case for how to present a character who’s just a bundle of jittery unpredictability.
Kyle says he’s acting on behalf of all of those people who lost all of that money, and he blames Lee, and everyone like him for it. His demands include keeping the cameras live, and finding out what really happened when the money vanished, refusing to accept the excuse that it was a “computer glitch.”
This is definitely a movie for our times, a story that takes aim at Wall Street and the people who run it, and focuses on the everyday normal people who are struggling to get by. But it’s also a movie that wraps its tentacles around everyone watching it. It’s a treat to watch Clooney change Lee from a fast talker to a fast thinker, and to watch Roberts (usually not one of my favorite actresses) sink her teeth into her role as her Patty also becomes a fast thinker, trying to maintain control of the stressful situation, yet still put on a quality TV show.
While all of that is happening, the cops arrive, under the direction of Captain Powell (Giancarlo Esposito), who tries to figure a way, with the help of his best sharpshooters, to deal with the explosive vest while dealing with the hostage taker.
Though some of the money-related plot turns might confuse some viewers, much in the way the last few minutes of “Trading Places” and most of “The Big Short” did, that part of the film takes nothing away from its enjoyment. And before it’s over, quite a few people will know a lot more about quants and logarithms than they ever thought possible.
Foster manages a great balance of tension and humor throughout the film, and the script regularly reveals more and more secrets about many of the characters. Sure, it’s a little early in the year to say this, but “Money Monster” will likely garner Oscar nominations next winter for picture, director, and screenplay.
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf; directed by Jodie Foster
With George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell