Do we really need another movie about how terrible Wall Street is?
Yes, absolutely we do, god dammit. The 2008 recession- a result of widespread Wall Street carelessness and greed- incited a fury in the American middle class that could fuel fifty more The Big Shorts. Jodie Foster, child star-turned-famous actress-turned-director, is the latest filmmaker to ride the anger wave looking to drown Wall Street in a tsunami of backlash art.
Is her Money Monster the next film we need in the continuing cinematic crusade against corporate corruption? No, not really. The Big Short worked because it was informative and a great film through and through. Jodie Foster's new movie is, well, neither of those things. It's still worth watching if you're seeking entertainment rather than thought provocation though.
Money Monster plays like a checklist of plot points: a mechanical amusement with infrequent bursts of soul. To be honest, I saw this film purely out of respect for Jodie Foster (I think she's a one of a kind actress), thanks to unconvincing trailers. While it's no epiphany of American culture, the movie did exceed my low expectations.
George Clooney plays charismatic TV star Lee Gates, who leads the titular show "Money Monster". He dances around to a theme song about money before giving stock advice as sexually as possible, just as you would expect a George Clooney character to do. His director, played by Julia Roberts, begrudgingly controls his chaos and maintains a tenuous friendship with the rich personality.
During an episode in which Gates discusses the crash of IBIS Global Capital, a young gunman bursts onto the live set, forces a bomb vest onto Gates, and demands answers- all while the live broadcast reels on. He swears that Gates strongly urged viewers to invest in IBIS just weeks earlier, and upon taking this advice, he lost everything.
Turns out, Gates did suggest exactly that, and American stockholders collectively lost $800,000,000. So who's at fault? TV financial pundits, Wall Street, or the unlucky investors?
"IT'S WALL STREET'S FAULT!", screams Money Monster, for 98 minutes straight.
The whole film is just as obvious as that answer would be in real life. The screenplay is not thematically subtle. This is not a movie that intelligently analyzes the moving pieces of American capitalism to sort out the motives of the criminal upper class. It is a movie with a single human villain meant to exemplify all of Wall Street, one who might as well be burning piles of money while laughing crookedly and dancing on a pile of poor people.
It is a movie whose sympathetic screwed over everyman checks every "feel sorry for this guy!" box in the "how to write a sad character" screenwriting guide chapter. And it is a movie with two big name stars facilitating the uncovering of business fraud.
The narrative is equally blatant, but it works breezily enough to entertain on a surface level. When you're constantly one step ahead of a story, it can grow wearisome- but when you stay ten steps ahead from start to finish, you eventually accept the story's obviousness and enjoy the movie's merits.
And amidst the guessable plot and unoriginal characters, Money Monster has plenty of positives. The main roles feel like they were written for George Clooney and Julia Roberts, so they each give a full-bodied performance that provides the film with needed dramatic heft. Jack O'Connell's tortured gunman earns the emotion that he begs for, as the actor only rarely overdoes the character's frustration.
The steps of the story, while clearly outlined, are worked through with a steady directorial touch from Foster. Her style is entirely film school textbook- standard almost to a fault- but done to its fullest potential. Other than a rather hasty exposition and a falsely happy ending, every minute in the middle of Money Monster is paced so deliberately that the movie stays riveting.
As the mystery unfolds, we're attentive not because we don't know where it's going (you will), but because Money Monster is fun fantasy: the good guys will prove heroic, the bad guy will get his comeuppance, and that's the way real life should have gone. Sometimes, that is the movie we need to see.