The market’s ripe for a film where the little guy takes on those who profit from Wall Street, as anyone who’s seen the #BernieOrBust hashtag can understand. And to its credit, Money Monster has plenty of crowd-pleasing elements for an audience eager to see crooks on Wall Street taken down. But Money Monster‘s desire to also have a message manages to dilute its strength, turning the film from thriller to bore in an instant at several points.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of Money Monster, a Mad Money-esque series where Gates obnoxiously plays to the camera while delivering stock tips that may earn his viewers millions – or cost them as much. One stock Gates promotes heavily is IBIS, and he features CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) on his show regularly. When IBIS experiences a “glitch” that results in a loss of $800 million in shareholder money, Gates is taken hostage on-air by Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a young blue-collar worker who lost his life savings during the downturn and wants some answers. Gates – and more importantly, his director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) – work to ease the tension on screen, while also figuring a way out of their situation.
With its thriller elements, as well as comedic ones courtesy of the show-within-a-film, Money Monster has a number of tonal shifts that come off as jarring. It’s to director Jodie Foster’s credit that those jarring shifts work as well as they do. Clooney is mostly kept in a lighter mode, constantly cracking jokes and pulling stunts even when his life is on the line. His behavior leads to one of the film’s standout moments, when he discovers exactly what his audience thinks of him. He’s balanced out well by Roberts, who balances out Clooney’s lightness with a serious determination on her part to keep everyone alive.
O’Connell has a trickier part. He’s a talented actor in smaller films with complex lead roles, but he seems incapable of making Kyle more than a one-note character. As much as Kyle might initially seem like a hero for the masses, he’s quickly punched down in a way that sucks away an energy that this film needs for this catalyst.
Audiences expecting a film with a powerful message about America’s financial system are better off looking elsewhere. Money Monster is more interested in working as a thriller – even with some comedic elements thrown in – than crafting a sharper movie with a message, but it doesn’t stop the filmmakers from occasionally swinging towards a message of some sort. For audiences looking for a decent thriller with a bit of a throwback feel to the types of adult films that populated screens in the 90s, though, Money Monster might make for a diverting watch one afternoon.