Jodie Foster’s Money Monster works on several different levels. On one hand, the film is an intense thriller and an involving mystery. On the other hand, it’s a dark comedy with sharp commentary on the stock market. The result is something like The Big Short meets Captain Phillips. That might sound like an odd combination and Money Monster can admittedly be a little uneven at times. On the whole, though, this is a solid picture that manages to be clever without taking itself too seriously.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, an eccentric television personality who offers financial guidance. He’s a lot like Jim Cramer of Mad Money, but dreamier. Although Lee tackles the stock market with a sense of humor, things get serious when his show is taken over by Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell). Having lost all of his money due to Lee’s poor advice, Kyle forces him to put on an explosive belt. Kyle threatens to blow up Lee on live television unless somebody explains why his surefire investment suddenly went south.
Clooney carries much of the film through his multilayered performance. The audience can see the fear and uncertainty in Lee’s eyes with every second that goes by. Since Lee is a TV star, however, he’s able to occasionally control the situation with charm, persuasion, and showmanship. He finds just the right balance of being confident while being desperate as well. O’Connell, one of our best rising stars, is just as strong as a sympathetic hostage taker who rolled the dice and lost big time.
Additionally, the supporting cast is nothing short of first-rate. Julia Roberts does great work as Patty, Lee’s director who communicates with him via earpiece throughout the film. The screenplay doesn’t delve into Lee and Patty’s whole history together. Through a few simple lines of dialog, however, the audience comes to understand everything we need to know about their relationship. Clooney and Roberts share wonderful chemistry as Patty does everything she can to keep her friend/colleague alive. We also get some strong performances from Dominic West as a corrupt businessman, Caitriona Balfe as a woman who realizes she’s working for a crook, and Giancarlo Esposito as a police captain trying to maintain order.
Aside from being consistently thrilling and surprisingly humorous at times, Money Monster provides a timely message about the risk of getting involved with Wall Street. Granted, there are times when the movie almost becomes too preachy and full of itself, especially in the contrived third act. Money Monster ultimately knows what it wants to be, though: a popcorn crime drama. It might get a few people talking about significant financial issues, but the film primarily exists to entertain. On that basis, it’s well worth your money.