How did a fortune 500 company lose $800 million overnight?
While this question could be ripped from any newspaper in the United States, it’s at the center of Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster, in theaters May 13th . This film plunges into the world of financial investing. Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of a TV show called Money Monster where he dishes out advice in a smug and bull-headed manner; think Jim Cramer from the show ‘Mad Money’. Patty (Julia Roberts) is the show’s producer and appears to be the only person who can control Lee and tone him down. During a live portion of the show, Patty notices a delivery man in the back of the stage holding boxes. In mere moments, it is apparent our delivery man is a disgruntled fan of the show who took Lee’s stock tip and it cost him $60,000. Kyle (Jack O’Connell) starts firing shots inside the T.V. studio and takes Gates hostage forcing him to strap on a bomb vest.
Money Monster is Jodie Foster’s first foray into directing thrillers and it’s quite a contrast from some of her earlier directing work like Home For the Holidays, The Beaver, and Little Man Tate. Foster certainly has proven her worth as a director in past but why did she want to tackle a fresh genre of films now directorially? Perhaps the topical nature of the plot attracted her.
Lee represents “the haves,” and appears to lead a comfortable lifestyle. Kyle symbolizes “the have-nots” and views what Lee and others have as unfair. He feels that Lee and people like him (CEO of Ibis Clear Capital) are in on this elaborate system of cheating out investors out of their hard-earned money.
Foster also touches on the impersonal nature of the financial system. Lee mentions to Kyle that, at one point, going into a local bank and asking them to open up their vault to show where the money sat were a normal occurrence. Now banking is a game of speed and profit margins. As long as the investors are continuing to make profit margins, no-one asks questions, and everyone is happy. Kyle goes to extreme measures to get Lee’s attention so that he can feel the massive hurt that he felt after losing his $60,000 investment.
While Foster gets it right when these themes play a fundamental role in the film, the problem is Money Monster only touches on each theme cursorily. If the movie had focused a little more on Kyle (Jack O’Connell’s) background (we do find out he has a girlfriend and a baby on the way), it would have created more buy-in from the audience.
The impersonal nature of the financial system is an enthralling aspect of this story line that deserves loads more attention in the film. Instead of spending time on how appalling life is because of losing $60,000 on a bad stock tip, why not spend it on those who were at the heart of this fraud? The CEO of Ibris Corporation is absconding with $800 million, using it to buy mines in South Africa and all that is worth is a mention at the end of the story? What motivated him to take all that hard earned money (including Kyle’s 60 grand) and made that investment just for his gain? Why does the system reward this type of behavior?
The most important character in the film is Kyle, whose purpose is to represent the “common man” who buys into these get rich stock tips but loses it all. What’s unfortunate is O’Connell’s portrayal is more whiny than that of a man at the end of his rope. Kyle grumbling draws attention away from the nefarious acts the CEO committed and has the audience rooting silently for the S.W.A.T. team sniper to get a clean shot at him . The lack of believability in Kyle’s plight turns his character from one audience can empathize with to one the could care less about.
Julia Roberts and George Clooney are both equally excellent in Money Monster. As Lee Gates, Clooney is commanding and manages to sell the T.V. finance guy persona perfectly. Gates can command any room, even a room where he is a hostage.
Roberts portrays Patty in a very grounded almost motherly sort of way. Patty cares about all the members of her production team but has a special place in her heart for Lee Gates, no matter how much he annoys her. When the crisis reaches its breaking point, she exhibits a take charge mentality as everyone is trying to get out of this situation alive. She’s the best part of the picture.
While this film had great intentions, the final product is far lacking the credibility needed to tackle such weighty subject matter. Clooney and Roberts make this movie reason enough to see it in the theaters.