August 28, 2016


Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlos Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito. Directed by Jodie Foster. (2016, 99 min).

I kind of a sucker for hostage dramas, my personal favorite being 1974's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and have seen so many that they can be pretty much be broken down into three subgenres:

  1. Those where our hero or heroes must match wits with one or more cold-blooded, ruthless killers (Pelham, Die Hard).
  2. Those where we may not necessarily condone the hostage-taker's actions, but we learn enough about them to at-least understand his/her desperation...maybe even empathize with them a little bit (Dog Day Afternoon, Fargo).
  3. Those where it's eventually revealed that the true villain isn't hostage-taker at all (John Q, The Negotiator). 

Jodie Foster's fourth film as a director, Money Monster, definitely falls under the third category, which isn't really a spoiler since the trailers practically give that away. Like Dog Day Afternoon, it's a semi-satirical thriller. Like John Q, it is a product of these times. But instead of a desperate father taking-on an evil HMO to save his son, Kyle Budwell (Jack O'Connell) sneaks onto the set of a financial news program, "Money Monster," and holds its flamboyant host hostage on live television. Like thousands of others, Kyle was encouraged by host Lee Gates (George Clooney) to invest heavily in IBIS, a company whose stock value he predicted would go through the roof.

Instead, through an apparent "glitch," its value plummets overnight, losing shareholders over $800 million, including Kyle, who invested everything he had. He doesn't believe the glitch story and demands to know the real reason for the crash from Walt Camby (Dominic West), IBIS' CEO, who's conveniently unavailable at the time. He also instructs the show's director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to stay on the air until he gets answers, because it isn't simply about his own money. Kyle wants the world to know what's really going on with a coporation they trusted.

"Wrong room, buddy! Bill O'Reilly's in the studio down the hall!"

It's slowly revealed that Kyle may actually be right (though we're pretty certain of that the entire time); IBIS' initial explanation of an algorithm glitch is technically impossible, meaning someone deliberately sabotaged IBIS' stock value for their own personal gain. Eventually, Gates and Fenn are convinced as well, turning Money Monster into a detective story while the hostage crisis unfolds on TV.

While there are some lapses in plausibility that are inherently necessary for stories like this to unfold, Money Monster is consistently exciting, suspenseful and sometimes darkly humorous. Clooney is especially good as Gates, who's initially as self-centered as we suspect most TV personalities are, but experiences major epiphanies throughout this ordeal, about himself and the nature of his profession. O'Donnell is also compelling as Kyle. He's no Einstein, having made many poor decisions in the past, and doesn't appear to have thought this insane plan through too thoroughly either. But Kyle isn't a bad person; he's just consumed by hopelessness, making him easy to identify with. After all, how many of us have, at one time or another, had our lives irreversibly altered by events beyond our control?

By far Foster's best film as a director, Money Monster is also reminder of how little most of us actually know about the inner workings of Wall Street...what makes some stocks go up while others plummet, sometimes overnight. We seldom question the reasons why, simply trusting the explanations given to us by those who presumably know what they're doing with our money.

Featurettes: "George Clooney: The Money Man"; "Inside the Pressure Cooker" (making of documentary); "Analysis of a Scene: The Showdown" (a break-down of the sequence shot on Wall Street itself); "Dan the Automator"
Music Video: "What Makes the World Go 'Round (Money!)"
Deleted Scenes

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