It’s curious how films about the same subject often come along in clusters. In the wake of The Big Short, an Oscars contender this year, here’s another story about ordinary Americans getting ripped off by Wall Street predators in the wake of the country’s financial crisis.
Related: Read David Gritten’s review of The Big Short
Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster, stars George Clooney as Lee Gates, the bombastic, preening host of a trashy financial TV show, with Julia Roberts as Patty Fenn, his competent, faintly weary producer. The film shares its terrible title with the terrible fictional TV show it depicts, in which Gates hams it up egotistically while promising a get-rich-quick future to the little people tuning in.
Gates has been singing the praises of a company run by hedge fund manager Walt Camby (Dominic West) who has somehow contrived to make $800 million disappear like magic – leaving thousands of small investors destitute. One of them, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) blames Gates personally for the $60,000 he will never see again, sneaks his way into the TV station where the show is being broadcast live, and points a gun at his head.
The ensuing hostage stand-off is the central narrative of Money Monster. Intriguingly, Roberts’s Patty has recently given in her notice for another job in more dignified TV journalism. But she isn’t too high-minded to keep the cameras rolling while the mind games between Gates and Kyle unfold: after all, it constitutes gripping television.
So, thinking on their feet, the TV presenter and his producer make the most of this life-and-death situation; they decide to have Camby’s underlings track him down and bring him before the cameras to confess his wrongdoing, while Gates apologises personally to Kyle for his reckless financial advice.
It’s hokum, of course, yet undeniably enjoyable. Money Monster has its faults and implausibilities, yet I found it preferable to The Big Short, which may have been clever, fast-talking and packed with insider knowledge, but also carried an air of superiority; its heroes (or what passed for heroes) were supercilious and distinctly unlikable.
For all that, no-one should approach viewing Money Monster with inflated expectations: as a director, it’s fair to say Foster has limited flair for action and sustained suspense. Yet it’s a joy to watch Clooney and Roberts trading one-liners with each other; they’re both agreeable, experienced actors and know how to get the most out of a script.
Money Monster ends on a relatively tranquil note in a scene that hints (but no more than hints) at the mutual attraction between these two watchable characters. It’s a calm corrective to the frenetic action that precedes it.
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