Friday, May 13

REVIEW: Money Monster

Directed by Jodie Foster
2016 Drama
1 hour 38 minutes
From Tristar Pictures

George Clooney
Julia Roberts
Jack O'Connell
Caitriona Balfe
Dominic West
Giancarlo Esposito
Christopher Denham
Emily Meade

I heard some pretty blah things about this one but was determined to see it anyway because I usually wander into Clooney movies and I have always had a thing for hostage stories.  Perhaps I saw a different movie than some others because I liked it. I'm not saying we'll hear from it at Oscar time but it's the first sign I've had this year that movies are getting better.  The summer blockbusters haven't arrived yet but perhaps we're done with the dreck.

The story concerns an investor who has lost everything because he took a gamble based on information given by a flamboyant TV financial host.  The disgruntled investor marches into the TV station and takes the host hostage, strapping him with explosives and ready to push the button.

The standoff is broadcast to millions in real-time while the real hero of the piece, a female producer safely tucked away in the control room, gives orders to the host through his earpiece as she turns her obvious skills to negotiator and investigator.

What tugs at the heart a bit is that we are allowed to feel something for the, um, bad guy.  Ok, he is a bad guy but I see his tale as more about the message than the messenger.  Certainly we fear him but I learned to fear for him.  He does have a point and we hear about it a great deal these days... the little guy, sincere and hopeful, anxious to get out from under the weight of his life, trusts someone and gets... oh I must be careful here... um, done in.  

And lest you think otherwise, allow me to enter into the record that I would not undertake his selection of retribution but I understand that some people would resort to it.  The movie keeps its eye on the ball as it sets out to make its point.  

At the same time we have a savvy but desperate producer who adeptly gets her staff to perform various tasks, some of them dangerous, while she forms an edgy bond with the female public relations rep from the company at the heart of the matter.  Together and separately, they smell a rat. 

At this point, the film shifts focus a bit although I found it welcoming from spending so long on the same set-piece. Likewise, the finale is still another change of direction and left me satisfied although some things need to end the way they need to end.

Some might describe this as a thriller... I would not.  And maybe to some that will also be the problem if one expects a thriller and finds it doesn't quite get there.  I would call it taut, certainly, and I never for a moment lost interest.

Maintaining that interest was not solely because of the story but also because of the acting.  Clooney was the star and the hostage but necessarily the focus. I would offer that Roberts and O'Connell ran with this one but Clooney still brought the TV host (in the beginning of the film, he seemed to be channeling his very best Jim Cramer) some humanity.  He was a rich, rather cavalier personality who begins to see things more clearly when the cold barrel of a gun is up against his temple.

Roberts, once the darling of the movie industry, has slipped off her perch a bit, and the fact that her recent films haven't fared so well critically or at the box office, has a lot to do with that.  I hope that Money Monster helps restore her standing because she's very good in this.   She plays the concerned, harried and scared producer for all she's worth.  No glamour, no big smile, no grandstanding... just good acting.

This is just my second Jack O'Connell film... 2014s Unbroken being the first and I was completely taken in by his bravura performance in that one.  And he sold me again here.  He brought an emotional layer to his performance that makes one realize that his character is not so much a bad guy as someone making a terrible decision.  Let's see now... he was directed by an actress-turned director (Angelina Jolie in Unbroken) and now actress-turned-director Jodie Foster in this one.  Well, whatever you're up to, O'Connell, it appears to be working. 

Congrats, too, to Caitriona Balfe, an Irish actress who is unknown to me at this time, but I'm willing to change that if she does future work as well as she did here.  I liked her character's confidence and competence and toughness.  Her sparring with Roberts was fun and it was great that her character sided with doing the right thing when it certainly could have been written many different ways.

Money Monster almost feels like an homage to Dog Day Afternoon (1975)... indeed, I was reminded of it several times. One of those is when a phone call is put through to the captor's pregnant fiance (brava to Emily Meade) and she provides a surprising response, way different from the earlier film.

There are parts of this that reminded me of Foster's own Inside Man (2006) in which she acted rather than directed.  This woman seems to love stories of peril and I am very glad she does.  She was a great choice to direct this one.  I liked her touches of humor in it as well. Perhaps she has learned that we audiences appreciate it when we get the occasional laugh as our nervous systems are on alert.

If you're ready to shuck the 2016 movie doldrums, you might try this one on for size.

Next posting:
Another review
(this time, a comedy)

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