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'Money Monster' is a great, adult thriller
"Money Monster" is the kind of film that Hollywood pundits mourn in the era of endless superhero franchises. A juicy yet serious thriller for grown-ups — no capes, no flying guys, no merchandise tie-ins. That kind of movie seems a relic of the '90s, so it's immensely refreshing to see Jodie Foster bring her talents as a director to this kind of smart, adult entertainment, as well as George Clooney, who not only stars in but produced the picture under his Smokehouse Pictures imprint. Not to mention his co-star, Julia Roberts. The two of them together prove not only that they still have it, and show just how it's done.
"Money Monster" is a "Network" for the financial crisis era, mashing up the sensationalist nature of cable news with anxieties about corporate greed and unregulated Wild West financial practices. Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the host of a live cable news finance show, "Money Monster," clearly cut from the same cloth as Jim Cramer's "Mad Money." Lee preens and dances in glittery hats, shouts stock tips and exhorts his viewers to grow a pair. Roberts is his patient director, Patty Fenn, just waiting out her last day before she starts a new job.
During the broadcast, a young man, Kyle (Jack O'Connell), manages to take Lee, and the entire crew, hostage on air, strapping a bomb vest to the host. The world looks on, transfixed by the real life-or-death drama on screen. Patty, in the control room, relying on instinct and talent, does what she does best, which is direct. She sees that Kyle wants to be heard, and so she does the work to give him what he wants, making sure the cameras and mics capture his words, coaxing Lee to stall, bargain and calm the young man.
Kyle, a working-class New Yorker, is apocalyptically upset about losing his life savings on an investment in a company that Lee recommended on air — IBIS. They claim a glitch in their algorithm caused the company to lose $800 million of investors' money, but as Patty digs deeper, turning to her journalistic instincts as a way to placate their captor, they discover that there's much shadier business pointing back to the company's CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West).
The entire situation plays out in almost real time, cutting swiftly between the hostage situation on the "Money Monster" set, the police trying to make their way inside and the panicked damage control at the IBIS offices. But there's only one person running the show, who never relinquishes control — Patty. One can't help but tip the hat to Foster directing a film that places a strong, confident woman in a position of control as the director of the show, as well the crisis. While Lee is on the ground with Kyle, it's the work of Patty and her team that's not only keeping the delicate situation in check but driving it in an investigative matter to seek justice.
The message of "Money Monster" is straightforward: People are good, and greed is immoral, even if it isn't illegal. It uses the newsworthy setting as an opportunity to wring out human drama, and the results are deliciously satisfying, driven by the performances of Roberts and Clooney (and the great British actor O'Connell). If only they made them like this more often.
3.5 out of 4 stars
Cast: Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito, Catriona Balfe
Directed by Jodie Foster
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence.