Money Monster Review
Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, Condola Rashad, Aaron Yoo, Carsey Walker, Jr. , and Grant Rosenmeyer.
Following an out-of-competition screening this past weekend, Jodie Foster’s Money Monster received a four-minute standing ovation from the legendarily tough crowd of critics and industry people at the Cannes Film Festival. I’m curious as to how much of this uncommonly warm reception, the likes of which is usually reserved for masterworks and innovative surprises, is based on the merits of Money Monster, and how much of it is directed at Foster herself. Jodie Foster is a film icon like no other. She has grown up in front of cameras. Her first role was in a television commercial at age three. Her cinematic breakthrough was in Taxi Driver at age fourteen. It’s a miracle when child stars don’t wind up in prison, or overdose on drugs and die, but Foster, one of the most intelligent people in the industry, has remained dedicated to her craft for over four decades, and has a body of work like no other. She inspires enthusiastic esteem and pride, especially from industry crowds like those at Cannes. She’s grown up gracefully on camera, returning now behind the camera with her fourth feature as a director.
Although I certainly hope she will act again very soon, Foster should keep coming back to the director’s chair. Her direction of Money Monster is nimble, and well-paced, but this is a flawed film, ultimately crippled by a rather silly script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFore, and Jim Kouf. The plot is timely and promising enough: George Clooney plays Lee Gates, an explicitly Jim Cramer-ish host of “Money Monster”, a gaudy financial advice show on cable news. Julia Roberts plays Patty Fenn, his loyal producer, who becomes even more of a lifeline than usual when working-class Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) takes Gates hostage on live television. Budwell lost all of his money–$60,000– due to bad advice from the show, and he desperately straps an explosive vest to Gates, demanding answers.
Promising enough premise, right? One key problem, among several problems, is that the movie is very funny. Too funny. With wall-to-wall wisecracking throughout from Clooney, Roberts, and other supporting characters, along with some unfortunate and misguided attempts at broad comedy, a film about a terrorist hostage situation isn’t for one moment genuinely tense and suspenseful. I don’t mean to suggest there is any fault with the performances. Any actor with half a brain would leap at the opportunity to be directed by Jodie Foster, and indeed Money Monster features two of the biggest stars we have, at the top of their game. Clooney and Roberts, on screen together for the first time in twelve years, exude seasoned charisma, obviously enjoying themselves on this shoot, and frankly I found basking in their colossal charms to be diverting enough on its own. But this plot starts out implausible, quickly regresses to ridiculous, then finally becomes a cartoon. Without giving too much of the plot away, an inexcusably poor choice in plotting, amidst a finale in which Gates and Budwell take to the streets surrounded by law enforcement and media, manages to obliterate any stakes previously established, low they may have been. In its climax, the film somehow simultaneously flies off the rails and becomes stale.
Though Clooney and Roberts are everything you would expect and hope them to be, it’s O’Connell who leaves an impression after the credits roll. He works wonders with a role that’s, truthfully, only moderately fleshed out. O’Connell broke through in a very big way in 2013, starring in David MacKenzie’s bruising, firebomb of a prison drama Starred Up, later starring in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. He is absolutely electrifying to watch, and calls to mind a young Tom Hardy, maybe even a young Brando. He gives a pulse and a tragic life force to a movie which is otherwise merely passably entertaining and moderately engaging. He deserves a much better script, and so does Foster.
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