On Jodie Foster's MONEY MONSTER

So, at this point, let’s face it: even though we all recognise Jodie Foster as someone serious and sincere in all of her endeavors, and George Clooney as that rare Hollywood star who actually puts his money where his mouth is, Money Monster may aim for a rabble-rousing quality regarding the current state of the US economy (and, by extension, the world’s), but it’s no Network nor even The Big Short. A nifty hostage thriller wrapped up in a topical shiny wrapper about the current economic and media landscape, Ms. Foster’s fourth feature as a director wants to be both a smart entertainment and a question-asking problem picture, following what happens when a desperate working-poor New Yorker (Jack O’Connell) gets on the set for the titular TV finance-as-entertainment programme and makes host Lee Gates (Mr. Clooney) hostage live on air, after Gates' stockmarket advice loses the poor schmuck his nest egg.

You can see why Money Monster is a film “of its moment”, even if, as we all know, the Hollywood process means the film has been in some sort of production for a couple of years now. But it’s a movie that never truly resolves itself to the heart’s content, even while supplying enjoyable genre smarts along the way and asking pointed questions about the media landscape we all love in. At some point, the big question it asks is not whether Wall Street is “bad” or whether it’s the greed of the bankers that brought the economic collapse, but when did we let ourselves become complacent to the point of allowing the hidden agendas of the media corporations spoonfeed us whatever it is they want us to believe in. (Julia Roberts’ seen-it-all producer quips cynically at the beginning film that Money Monster, the program, isn’t really journalism.) But it’s a question it doesn’t dwell overly on; after all, this is Hollywood, this is entertainment. 

It is one of the film’s labored ironies: a big-screen Hollywood star vehicle about the evil encroachment of always-on television that trades in the exact speed and multi-camera variables of a small-screen news program, literally overflowing into DP Matthew Libatique’s crisp widescreen compositions and Matt Chessé’s nimble editing. But it also helps in giving Money Monster, whose major setpieces take place almost in real time, a genuine energy, propelling it at a brisk pace and leaving just enough of its “talking points” on show for people to start gnawing at them at some point. 

As always, there’s more intelligence in Ms. Foster’s relationship with her cast than in her functional but workmanlike staging, allowing her to let them all make the most of their roles (even when there’s not much of a role there in the first place). It’s very much an ensemble piece, propelled by Ms. Roberts and Mr. O’Connell’s solid, anchoring performances while yet again proving Mr. Clooney to be an actor willing to insert darker notes within his comfort zone. But it’s also a film that feels more planned than spontaneous, as if directing didn’t come easy to the actress — the fact that the mechanics of the plot (devised by veteran film and TV writer Jim Kouf with his Grimm collaborator Alan di Fiore) are maybe too visible is a definite sign of her limitations. At the same time, the studious approach, without assigning blame or judging openly, carries over from Ms. Foster’s previous ventures as a director and certainly marks this as her movie.

But it’s precisely that measured tone that makes Money Monster ultimately frustrating and prevents it from rising above the mere genre piece, even though there are occasional neat moments where it succesfully bridges both worlds. It’s less outraged (and less outrageous) than The Big Short, but that’s also precisely why it fails to reach that film’s satirical bite — Ms. Foster is too cerebral and mild-mannered a director to go all the way. 

US, 2016, 99 minutes
CAST George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito; DIR Jodie Foster; SCR Jamie Linden, Alan di Fiore and Jim Kouf, from a story by Messrs. Di Fiore and Kouf; DP Matthew Libatique (widescreen); MUS Dominic Lewis; PROD DES Kevin Thompson; COST DES Susan Lyall; ED Matt Chessé; PROD Daniel Dubiecki, Lara Alameddine, Mr. Clooney and Grant Heslov; Tristar Pictures, Smokehouse Pictures and Allegiance Theater in association with Lstar Capital


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