TWIM Reviews: Money Monster

MONEY MONSTER (Sony)

Dir. Jodie Foster, Script. Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden

Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell

Plot: Lee Gates (Clooney) is held hostage live on his own TV show by a desperate labour worker (O’Connell).

We’ve kind of been in a bit of a routine in recent weeks – once again, summer movie season has brought forth blockbuster upon blockbuster, and if you’ve been following the blog for the last month you might notice it’s been nothing but big-budget behemoths. So, a welcome change – a film that premiered at that most cultured venue, the Cannes Film Festival (out of competition I admit but still, Cannes is very pretentious), a film being distributed by TriStar, Sony’s ‘prestige’ (whatever that means) label, and packed to the rafters with big name talent in front and behind the camera. And, seeing as we’re on about cameras, Money Monster is most definitely about those: as the infiltrator played by Unbroken‘s Jack O’Connell bellows an elaborate speech to camera, Julia Roberts wants the camera moved closer to him to improve his lighting. A great filmmaker would maybe seize on this moment to really put their message into action, and while a lot of Money Monster seems crafted for a scathing indictment of mass media, and the state of our economy, the film’s a little safe: it decides to focus on one bad thing in great detail rather than look at the big picture.

Money Monster 1

1997: A disgruntled Batman fan takes George Clooney hostage for this

 

But at its heart Money Monster is being marketed as a hostage thriller, full of suspense and tension. Is it a heart-pounding rollercoaster of a film? To be honest, not really: it has a ‘traditional’ (whatever that means) feel to it, with a lot of well-crafted, slow build-up. The film has a theatrical quality, and in a good way – its mainly contained to the studio of the show George Clooney presents, a shock-journalism programme disguised as a program on serious, financial advice. In the opening minutes, screenwriter Alan Di Fiore introduces us not only to the characters and their personalities, but also the studio itself. It’s a very film-school way of getting things rolling, but the old ways are the best. Di Fiore’s dialogue is snappy at first, although later on as the situation begins to escalate, it descends more into sweary rage and threats.

Money Monster 2

Great shot, but I’m interested what ‘By more than 250 persons is dangerous’ refers to – people who enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse?

 

But, is it suspenseful? Again, not really: it’s not totally lacking in tension (I don’t think a big Hollywood studio would back something quite as radical as the suspenseless thriller), but Money Monster only got butterflies into my stomach a couple of times. The rest of the movie doesn’t really have that going for it, and I think a lot of that’s down to the way the film is plotted. Once O’Connell breaks onto set, it doesn’t take long to figure out that he’s just as afraid as the people he’s thrusting his gun into. And once you realize that, I feel like the tension just fades because deep down you know he doesn’t want to do something he’ll regret. It’s only in moments where O’Connell would act out for fear of his own life that the tension builds. Throughout Money Monster, Jodie Foster’s direction is the driving force: the tone and pace is spot on, and Matthew Libatique’s camerawork sleek. Instead of just sticking to normal thriller tactics, Foster approaches Money Monster like a drama, with the characters at the forefront – she gives everyone a recognisable identity, if not all too much depth. Her set pieces are also well-crafted, along with the screenplay she’s working from. One thing that can’t be denied is that Money Monster is built like an IKEA wardrobe – there’s no loose bits and everything that’s in the box is there for a reason.

Money Monster 3

Does he know his target’s behind him?

 

The performances are solid too, with George Clooney walking just the right line between effortless charisma and blind arrogance. While it’s not by any means his best performance, you can tell Clooney has a real handle on his character, and when things begin to change and go against him, he changes to react to it. By the end of the film, the performance Clooney is doing is completely removed from the one at the start – its the mark of a good actor that we still associate both with his character. Julia Roberts is also steely in the role of Gates’s director. But on Jack O’Connell, I wasn’t so sure: I couldn’t help but want to reach into the screen, yell ‘Cut!’ and tell him that there’s a difference between being deranged and being desperate. He does settle his character down as the film goes on, but in the first 15 minutes of O’Connell’s hold-up, he does nothing but shout about his failings. While it’s attention grabbing, and his character is a memorable one, it didn’t hold me and make me interested, because there was no complexity to the way O’Connell played him. I felt there were so many more nuances that O’Connell could have brought to the table.

Money Monster 4

Clooney has to be consoled after looking at Tomorrowland’s box-office figures (very bad)

 

Money Monster‘s plot is a slow-build, but as the pieces begin to come together it works quite nicely. However, I do wish the film went in with a bit more impact: it demonises the state of things, but offers no alternative to them. What should have been an attack against corporations who mislead the public, ends up being an attack on one, single corporation rather than any others, as if its the exception rather than the norm. And when the answers do come, they’re far-fetched, seemingly from out of the blue, and not believable enough to make you think it could be happening as we speak. But Money Monster is a decent film – Foster’s handle on the material is fantastically controlled, with great pacing, while the acting is also strong and lively. It’s a bit more cerebral than your average thriller, but what it might sacrifice in suspense the film makes up in intrigue (a top-notch electronic score from Dominic Lewis helps too). It’s also worth the price of admission and then some to see George Clooney dance like your dad to a hilariously ostentatious hip-hop song. That’s one hell of a thrill.

RATING: 2.5/4

BEST WATCHED: If you go to movies half as much as I do, then a cinema, but if not it looks to me like a great rent-for-a-night pick.
WHAT NEXT?

Clooney doesn’t have anything slated for the time being, although you’d expect that to change very quickly. Jodie Foster has nothing on the horizon either, with her next directorial effort unknown and a return to acting doubtful (her last role, as an elitist dictator who loved accents so much she couldn’t pick just one, in Elysium was three years ago). Julia Roberts, in her attempts to return to stardom and Oscar-darling status, has signed on to do a movie in which she will copy Brie Larson’s absolutely incredible performance in Room, co-starring with that film’s other revelation Jacob Tremblay in Wonder – however, no release date yet, so it’s not a guarantee it’ll happen. Jack O’Connell has already filmed a war film notable for it’s h-tacular title, HHhH, with Jason Clarke, Rosamund Pike and Mia Wasikowska, which might be an awards season player later in the year.

James Stephenson

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