Film review: Money Monster takes a swing at the financial industry

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Jodie Foster directs Money Monster starring George Clooney as a media celebrity taken hostage by an angry man whose life was shattered by financial collapse. Photo: Sony Pictures Jodie Foster directs Money Monster starring George Clooney as a media celebrity taken hostage by an angry man whose life was shattered by financial collapse. Photo: Sony Pictures

If you’ve so much as surfed past CNBC on your way to something actually worth watching, you’re no doubt familiar with the smugness of what might be called the financial entertainment industry. The most visible of this ilk is Jim Cramer of “Mad Money,” the apoplectic insider with his sleeves rolled up, surrounded by props and sound effects, shouting hyperbole about what and what not to buy with the confidence of a CEO and the assertiveness of a used-car salesman.

Though these people give off the air of authority, when pressed on errors in judgment, they generally point to their role as entertainers rather than public figures. This strange byproduct of American capitalism and the 24-hour news cycle is the subject of Jodie Foster’s Money Monster, about a working-class man who takes a Cramer-esque figure hostage during a live broadcast after a bad tip leads him to lose his entire life savings. George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, host of the show “Money Monster,” which features as much dancing and clowning around as actual financial journalism. Just when his director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), is preparing to leave for another job, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) storms the set with a gun and two explosive-laden vests: one for Gates, and one for Walt Camby (Dominic West), CEO of Ibis, who claims a computer glitch caused $800 million in stocks to disappear.

The subject of economic justice is a ripe one in 2016, with the rise of the Sanders campaign and many articles reflecting just how unaccountable the financial sector has become in what is supposed to be the world’s greatest democracy. TV personalities make a spectacle out of buying and selling in lieu of actual analysis, barking about it, but never exploring how the system may be failing.

While Money Monster presents itself as addressing this topic head-on, despite its occasional moments of inspiration, it ultimately dodges the question of systemic failure as deftly as its character Gates. The film can be quite funny, the cast works tremendously well with each other, and the passion Foster has for this topic is quite evident. But without spoiling too much of the plot, rather than shining a light on the ways the middle and working classes aren’t getting a fair deal in this economy, the circumstances of Ibis’ crash were due to a bad guy making selfish decisions. This is the ultimate cop-out of modern cinema; claim your movie is about a large topic, place all of the blame on a single unlikeable person, then roll credits before you alienate a given political demographic.

The Big Short is one of the best examples of how to make this subject accessible and entertaining while providing enough real-world evidence to make a poignant observation: The 2008 crisis was not the fault of any one person, but the people who could have alerted us chose to profit instead. The most thought-provoking idea in Money Monster could be summarized as “Bad people are bad,” not unlike the message of the utterly forgettable Clooney-Heslov production, Our Brand is Crisis. This is what superhero movies do when they want to seem smart, and it is unbecoming of movies that actually want to be smart.

Money Monster R, 90 minutes
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