Money Monster is the EXACT movie you expect it to be. Take a guess at any aspect of the plot and I promise you will be 100% correct. There are no twists, turns, or unexpected reveals, and despite the title, I assure you that nobody gets bitten by radioactive money causing them to transform into a money monster whenever the Dow drops below a certain rate. Sorry.
Yet as predictable and straightforward as the plot is, I get the feeling that twists and turns are not the film’s intentions. The narrative is direct and procedural, but never bland. In fact, the basic structure made it downright comforting, similar to the way that rewatching a favorite movie can be — even though I was watching it for the first time. That said, if at some point George Clooney were attacked by a rabid stack of twenties, and then the film became a real-time struggle to keep the Dow from dropping low enough to cause his gruesome transformation into a giant beast made of money, I’d have been down.
But that’s not what this film is about. In reality it’s about precisely what the trailer says it’s about: Lee Gates is taken hostage during a live broadcast of his novelty finance show (think Mad Money). He is forced to put on an explosive vest while being held at gunpoint by a disgruntled investor. With the support of his peers, and his knack for schmoozing, he begins to uncover a financial conspiracy that goes much deeper (but only as deep as you’d fully expect it to go).
The film unspools in real-ish time, transitioning between the TV studio, the broadcast bay, and a variety of outside locations. It’s these transitions that really shine a light on to how skilled a director Jodie Foster is. There’s no flash or flare here, but it’s not just a static camera filming a script reading. The camera is very much alive, but it moves so naturally and intuitively that it feels human. Foster, who has directed just 4 films and a handful of television episodes, has the visual acuity and technical proficiency of a much more prolific filmmaker. It’s rather impressive, and I’d love to see her behind the camera more often.
The script for Money Monster spent some time on the coveted Black List, and it’s easy to see why. But I do wonder if it reads better on paper than it does in action. I also wonder if there’s a better, albeit more novelty-based movie that takes place solely in the lens of the television broadcast. Mostly I wonder if this script was written 7-8 years ago in Mad Money’s heyday. In 2016 it still feels relevant, but also quite dated.
George Clooney and Julia Roberts have an easy chemistry which lends to a surprising amount of humor (there are a few legitimate laugh-out-loud moments), as well as a warmth that helps to fill in character deficiencies resultant from this being a plot-heavy film. Jack O’ Connell remains a mystery to me. I can’t tell if he’s legitimately good, or just an easily projected upon blank slate who is willing to go big. I want to like him, I really do, but I guess the utterly unwatchable Unbroken has left me biased. I hear a dalliance with Starred Up can help fix this. I will check it out. One thing is for sure: if at some point during the film he were bitten by a sentient satchel of spare change and then transformed into a money monster, he’d have been immediately upgraded to “best actor ever.” Unfortunately, this did not occur.
Overall, Money Monster is a solid, reliable thriller with engaging performances from a cast of familiar, talented faces. While it’s not as explosive a thriller to which modern tastes may be more accustomed, it’s a clean, well-paced throwback to films like The Negotiator or Absolute Power, and as such is a refreshing respite from so many thrillers that rely on twists and turns to camouflage a lacking narrative. It’s worth your time, but not nearly as worth your time as it would have been if it were about a man who transforms into a money monster whenever the Dow drops too low, after having been bitten by radioactive money.
Money Monster opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.