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Money Monster

D: Jodie Foster / 98m

Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, Condola Rashad, Aaron Yoo

Lee Gates (Clooney) is the host of TV show, Money Monster. Gates acts as an advisor for anyone looking to invest their money in stocks and shares, but he does so in a hyped-up, devil-may-care fashion that makes him seem sharp and ahead of the game. From the opening dance routines to his frequently ad hoc approach to any scripted segments, Gates talks and behaves as if he can’t ever be wrong. As he gears up to present the latest edition of the show, Gates is expecting to interview Walt Camby (West), the CEO of IBIS Clear Capital, an investment company whose main trading algorithm has developed a glitch and “lost” $800 million, leaving some of their investors high and dry. But Camby is off the grid, and his chief communications officer, Diane Lester (Balfe), is left to field Gates’s questions.

Once on air, the show is interrupted by a delivery man (O’Connell) who appears on set and reveals he has a gun. He forces Gates to put on a vest that’s crammed with C4, and threatens to detonate the explosives unless he gets some answers as to why IBIS’ algorithm went so badly wrong. The delivery man, whose name is Kyle Budwell, is appalled that Gates, and everyone else, is just accepting Camby’s line that it was all just a glitch. Why, he asks, isn’t anyone asking how it could have happened, and why is everyone not as angry as he is, especially as Gates, on a previous edition of the show, told his viewers that investing in IBIS was safer than investing in savings bonds.

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The police are quick to arrive, and the show is allowed to carry on broadcasting live. Gates’s producer, Patty Fenn (Roberts), is stuck in the unenviable position of having to keep both Gates and Kyle calm, and to keep the on-set camera and sound team from being hurt as well. Soon the police – and Gates – learn that Kyle inherited $60,000 when his mother died and he invested it all in IBIS shares; now he has virtually nothing except a job that pays fourteen dollars an hour and a pregnant girlfriend, Molly (Meade). Meanwhile, Diane begins to suspect that all isn’t as it seems at IBIS when her senior colleagues prove less than helpful as she tries to piece together what happened to make the company lose so much money in one hit. And as she begins to work out what happened, so too does Patty and Gates. As the mounting evidence points to fraud on a massive scale, Camby resurfaces, and he and Gates and Kyle find themselves on a collision course to reveal the truth.

If you’re thinking that Money Monster sounds like a fast-paced financial thriller where Wall Street is the bad guy, and Clooney portrays a champion for the little guy who exposes fraud and corruption wherever they rear their ugly heads, then you’re going to be disappointed. It is a financial thriller, that much is true, but the pacing is a little haphazard, and any tension inherent in the material is worn down by director Jodie Foster’s unwillingness to have the movie edited appropriately (and it’s not as if her editor, Matt Chessé, hasn’t any experience in this area – he’s worked on both World War Z (2013) and Quantum of Solace (2008) before now). This is best expressed in a horribly lengthy sequence that sees Gates and Kyle walk from the TV studios to Federal Hall, surrounded by armed police and baying crowds. With precious little happening apart from Clooney looking anxious and O’Connell looking like he can’t work out what’s going on, the sequence comes to a contrived end long after you’ve begun hoping that they’ll get there already.

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With the movie’s thriller elements lacking energy or defined purpose, there’s the small matter of the McGuffin, the $800 million. Such is the muddled approach to the story as a whole, that the script – by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Rouf – never really decides if it’s important or not. That Camby is behind its disappearance is never in doubt, but Kyle’s motivations for challenging its public perception as a glitch manage to change from scene to scene. One minute he wants the money back so all the investors who’ve lost out can be remunerated, the next he wants an explanation as to how the money could have vanished in the first place, and then he’s looking for an admission of guilt. With the script unable to decide what Kyle wants, it leaves O’Connell adrift and having to do the best he can with a character who keeps telling Gates he’s not stupid, but who is then outed by his girlfriend as being exactly that (and when she does, it’s harsh).

Clooney is left stranded a lot of the time, especially in the twenty minutes or so after Kyle’s arrival on set. But when Gates is given stuff to do – argue about the state of his life against Kyle’s, plead with the public to buy IBIS shares in order to save his life – he’s stuck with dialogue that feels and sounds clunky and unconvincing. Clooney is a very good actor, but not even he can do anything with lines such as, “We take care of each other. It’s in our DNA. Not because an equation tells you to do it, but because it’s the right thing to do.” Roberts is likewise hampered by a role that requires her to be too many things at once: TV producer, hostage negotiator, amateur detective, and grudging friend (to Gates). She does her best but in the end has to coast along with the vagaries of the script like everyone else.

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The script tries to make the apparent complacency of ordinary investors as much to blame for financial disasters as it does the banks, the investment companies and the government, an argument that sounds edgy but is quickly shelved once Camby’s apparent perfidy is placed front and centre, and there are some Gosh No! moments when Kyle trots out a few financial conspiracy theories, but on the whole this is a movie with a script that doesn’t know exactly what it wants to say, and sadly, a director who doesn’t quite know how to get it into better shape. There are stretches where Money Monster is quite listless, content to cruise along in neutral and wait until the next plot development hoves into view. What that means for the viewer though, is a movie that never grips as it should, and never engages consistently with its audience.

Rating: 5/10 – only moderately rewarding, Money Monster lacks discernible energy and stumbles around trying too hard to be an efficient thriller (without quite knowing how to be one); a disappointment then given the talent involved, this could have been a lot more interesting, and a lot more entertaining, if it hadn’t been so rambling in its approach and its execution.