Money Monster (2016)
After a supposed ‘computer glitch’ wipes 800 million dollars off a Wall St trading company’s books, disgruntled (and busted) small investor Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) invades the live broadcast of the Money Monster TV show and straps smarmy host/stock tipster Lee Gates (George Clooney) into a suicide bomb vest – demanding an explanation of exactly how his money disappeared. Director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has to keep the show going and everybody alive while corporate PR flack Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) begins to wonder whether her boss Walt Camby (Dominic West) has been 100% truthful about how a big deal went south.
The model for this satirical thriller is obviously Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (down to a couple of plot developments), though the set-up might be slightly influenced by Costa-Gavras’s little-remembered Mad City – and, with live-on-air ‘siegeface’ Lee weaselling all through the hostage drama, it comes close to being a remake of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. Written by Jim Kouf (who has been around since The Boogens in 1981),Alan DiFiore and Jamie Linden and directed by Jodie Foster, this is stuck with the central dilemma of posing and then answering an unanswerable question. Like The Big Short, it contemplates the mysteries of the money market and finds the flim-flam and voodoo trotted out by experts and insiders useless as a means of understanding What Went Wrong. To turn the premise into a satisfying thriller, the story has to deviate from a general howl against global capitalism and identify an actual hissable baddie who has done something indictably wrong and gets due punishment. ‘Nobody complained so long as I was making them money,’ is hardly a heroic rationale.
More gripping is the character business, with hollow man Lee and just-about-to-quit Patty growing as the crisis gets out of control – and schlub Kyle getting deeper and deeper in his mess as hostage negotiators, snipers, supposed loved ones (Emily Meade has a showstopping turn as Kyle’s pregnant girlfriend in the equivalent to Chris Sarandon’s role in Dog Day Afternoon), looky-loos and audiences around the world (with significant input from Seoul, Iceland and South Africa) get in on the act. There’s a touch of another Lumet classic, Network, in the jabs at trash TV, though this is also very much in Clooney’s producer-as-auteur field of interest (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night, and Good Luck). Foster – not hitherto much regarded as a director of suspense or comedy – does a great job of keeping the ticking clock going and wringing laughs from the variously demented folks who suffer indignities – from the assistant producer (Christopher Denham) having to try out impotence cures in the wings to the cameraman (Lenny Venito) working at gunpoint – to keep the show on the air. The corporate conspiracy side of things is more rote, though Balfe is strong and there’s splendid untrustworthy-in-a-suit acting from Dennis Boutsikaris as an exec with a lot to hide.
O’Connell plays a loser, but is also hemmed in a little by the film’s approach – he isn’t quite sympathetic or scary enough to hold up his end of the siege (the equivalent character played by Colm Meaney in Alpha Papa was actually more effective) but that’s not the actor’s fault. The film is naturally more interested in the Clooney and Roberts characters because its makers identify with them far more than with non-showbiz civilians. Because of this it’s not as angry or affecting as it might be – but it is entertaining, suspenseful and funny.