Directing her latest film Money Monster, Jodie Foster starts at a frantic pace. It’s all banter and walk and talk, like an episode of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.
What makes it fun is that George Clooney’s doing much of the chit-chat and batting it back is Julia Roberts. This star pairing play presenter and producer. George is Lee Gates, the self-obsessed, ego-driven host of a funky financial TV news show, the titular Money Monster, which features zippy graphics and dancing girls as Gates gyrates his way through the day’s news.
Roberts is his trusty, long-suffering producer Patty Fenn (so suffering, in fact, that she’s secretly applied for a move to a rival channel) but they can still sock it to each other with a fair amount of screwball-style sexual tension.
Just as another show is getting under way and Gates is reporting (or dancing, actually) on the sudden crash of an investment firm he’d been praising weeks earlier, a man bursts into the studio and sticks a gun to his head, live on air.
Now, you could understand this happening to Piers Morgan or Simon Cowell, but it’s more unusual in a financial show. But the guy turns out to be Kyle, an ordinary truck driver from the Bronx who – rather foolishly, I admit – took Gates’ gung-ho advice and invested his inheritance in the very firm that’s now tanked to the tune of $800 million. Kyle is played by British actor Jack O’Connell who just about steals the show with his tightly coiled performance, admirably concealing his Derby accent.
And now, hoping Gates can use his influence to get an interview, Kyle wants to talk to the CEO of the firm that’s lost all his savings, a belligerent banker type played by Dominic West, the sort of actor who can get away with being a total asshole on screen yet still come out smelling of fine cognac and pipe tobacco. I blame Eton.
While Patty and Gates do their best to find the errant CEO – Gates has a vest of semtex strapped to his chest to encourage him to make the deadline – the world of course begins to tune in to the live transmission. Bars in Seoul, basements in Iceland, townships in Johannesburg are all watching. Are they all somehow connected? You can put your savings on it. If you had any left.
Foster directs all this with high energy and expert control. The tension mounts and the cameras zoom about as Kyle demands his close ups. There’s a superbly funny moment when the SWAT police arrive and get Kyle’s fiancee to talk to him, but she delivers the complete opposite of the speech they were expecting.
Although it’s dressed as a flashy hostage drama, this is really a film about masculinity in the financial meltdown, about ego, dignity and pride in your work. And about how Wall Street and the complex algorithms of big business have fleeced millions of guys like Kyle.
There are a lot of elements here from classic 1970s New York-in-ruins movies, from Network and Dog Day Afternoon, even to The King of Comedy. Eventually Kyle will march gorgeous George, still live, through the that city, for the gawping pleasure of onlookers. There’s a part of Patty who knows this is great television, too, even if the bomb could go off at any second.
Unlike those many films to which it is indebted, Money Monster isn’t a great movie, but it’s a very enjoyable, slick and starry one – we’ve missed the Clooney/Roberts double act since those Ocean’s movies. It sneaks in its warning message about global finance and the dangers of capitalism and, even if life, law and the money markets aren’t, it’s good to know the movies are still on the side of the little guy.