I like George Clooney a lot – one of the highlights of the year so far for me has been ‘Hail, Caesar!’ and when I heard he was re-teaming with his ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ co-star, Julia Roberts (who he had really good chemistry with) in a film directed by Jodie Foster, I definitely wanted to check it out. However, despite these three huge Hollywood names, it is the relative newcomer, Brit Jack O’Connell, who absolutely steals the show.
‘Money Monster’ is the latest in a long line of recent films addressing the global financial crisis – ‘Margin Call’, ‘The Big Short’, ’99 Homes’ – to name but a few. I think it is right and proper that the film world addresses the real, contemporary issues of the day; as much as I enjoy indulging in superhero fantasies as well. The titular Money Monster is the name of a glitzy TV show hosted by Lee Gates (George Clooney), in which he jazzes up dull financial talk with excruciating hip-hop dance numbers, props and costumes. This TV show has such influence that if Lee tells you to buy or sell stock, he can actually affect the market, with a “Money Monster Spike”. Lee is the typical Clooney type – the lovable rogue – divorced three times, with a kid he never sees. He never eats alone, especially on a Friday night, unlike the director of the show, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), who we are supposed to buy as the dowdy, sensible type. She has become fed up with the Clooney schtick and is taking a job “across the road”, presumably at a rival network.
The film opens just as there has been a major crash at a huge company called IBIS, in which $800 million has been wiped out due to a technical “glitch”. Delivery boy Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) has invested his entire inheritance in this company because of a tip from Lee Gates on Money Monster and is now understandably disgruntled. So, live on air, he takes Lee hostage, forcing him to wear a bomb vest. Kyle’s endgame is not completely cut-and-dry. More than one person (including Lee) offers to reimburse him for his loss, but Kyle says that he wants answers, personally, from IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West).
The on-screen stand-off is played out in real-time and is suitably tense. This is entirely down to Jack O’Connell’s performance as a desperate man, hemmed into a corner and into a situation that he hasn’t entirely thought through. O’Connell has had an interesting early career, starting with excellent Brit flicks ‘Starred Up’ and ’71’. It is interesting that his two major forays into Hollywood so far have involved him being directed by Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) and now, Jodie Foster. He acts Clooney and Roberts off the screen, completely stealing the show with a mesmerising performance.
The less successful aspects of the film are the sub-plots surrounding the main stand-off on the Money Monster set. While “directing” the hostage situation on-screen, Patty is simultaneously launching an investigation into IBIS, which involves a coder in Seoul, hackers in Iceland, a miner’s strike in South Africa and the company’s Communications Officer, who just so happens to be Camby’s mistress. They realise that Camby has been lying about the glitch and arrange a show-down across town, which involves Lee and Kyle moving through the streets of New York, surrounded by crowds taking selfies. Tonally, this film is all over the shop; it tries to tread the more familiar Clooney-Roberts flirty rom-com path at times and there is even a plot device involving a producer and erectile dysfunction cream. This is all bizarre when juxtaposed with the character of Kyle, who is in a believably desperate situation, shared by other victims of financial corruption.
I guess that this film ultimately lets down this character and this plot, by wrapping it up with glossy Hollywood stars and veering into ridiculous plot-twists. There was more than one moment that made me cringe and it is ultimately the writing that is at fault. Clooney and Roberts are forced into well-worn character clichés and anything that takes place outside of the hostage situation in the Money Monster studio just doesn’t work for me. This film is worth checking out for one thing and one thing alone: Jack O’Connell. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Director: Jodie Foster
Starring: George Clooney, Jack O’Connell, Julia Roberts