When you’re an Academy Award winning character actor who has worked in the industry for over forty years for numerous incredible directors and opposite the best of the best in the world, you probably have enough experience in the tank to helm a film and do it properly. For Jodie Foster, now four feature films deep into her directing career, that base ability to be an astounding actress on the big screen must help in how she directs her own stars in her own projects. Unfortunately for Foster, aside from her directorial debut Little Man Tate in 1991, none of her other films have been successful and her last effort, The Beaver, only made just over a quarter of its budget. Could that have been because audiences hadn’t softened to the troubled lead star Mel Gibson yet? Maybe, but the result was another failing film from the Silence of the Lambs acclaimed star.
Her new film, Money Monster, hopes to turn that negative record around and the start of that momentum comes with the two lead stars, George Clooney and Julia Roberts, both Academy Award winners themselves, certainly a good meeting of these iconic Hollywood giants. Alongside the leading cast is up and coming British actor Jack O’Connell, sounding like a real New Yorker and hoping to prove himself to a wide mainstream North American audience. O’Connell is an actor on the verge of becoming one of the most important new talents in Hollywood but more on that later.
Money Monster opens on Lee Gates (Clooney), a television host of a financial stock trading show, much like CNBC’s show Mad Money with Jim Cramer. In preparation of his show going live, we get a glimpse into the behind the scenes of his production, as well as Gates himself, a fast living, self centered blow hard consistently anchored by his producer Patty Fenn (Roberts). Fenn, long suffering through Gates’ antics, has decided to take another position somewhere else, unknown to her TV star, but for this day it’s business news as usual. The flamboyant Lee Gates is ready for another cocky showboating show that his audience eats up but this would prove to be a show like no other.
Part way into the show, Patty notices a man (O’Connell) milling around behind the set and gets the camera man to try to pick him up so she can see. When she does, he emerges on set and pulls a gun on Gates, taking the entire production hostage. He immediately reveals his plight, a loss of the investment of his entire life savings after taking advice from Gates’ show. The company he bought stock in suffered a computer glitch that lost the shareholders $800 million dollars and put the hostage taker in an incredibly destitute situation, He straps a vest onto Lee Gates, filled with C4 and activates the dead man switch as he demands answers for what this computer glitch actually is.
The film, for the most part, is driven by the skill of the three lead actors and what they are able to do with the script they have. The story is very basic with only a couple of minor twists, nothing that astounding, so it all depends on Clooney charming you, Julia Roberts being the cool under pressure producer trying to save her talent’s life and the desperation of Jack O’Connell. The rest of the movie around that is of little original consequence and you can almost telegraph exactly what is going to happen. The craziest thing about that is Jodie Foster and her cast makes this film a fun and enjoyable time in getting there, no matter how much she stays on a centered path.
As I was saying before, we know George Clooney and Julia Roberts are that A-list star power that puts butts in seats, but Jack O’Connell continues to prove that he is aspiring to be on that same list and he’s grabbing the right rungs of that ladder to get there, even if this movie isn’t a commercial success. From his start on the scandalous British series Skins to his menacing turn in Eden Lake, the real life story of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken or the last thing I saw him in, ’71, O’Connell is continuously and consistently compelling. He is seriously on the must watch list, along with The Danish Girl’s Matthias Schoenaerts, gunning for that coveted “next Tom Hardy” position.
Is Money Monster a must see theatrical release? No, not really but it is an entertaining film that will have enough charm to net an older audience unfettered by the need to have explosions, constant gunfire and other forms of gratuitousness. George Clooney fans will leave the film satisfied with some safe crowd-pleasing work from the actor in a story that the mainstream middle class will eat up at the moment, sleazy businessmen being sleazy and screwing over the little guy until he pushes back. Sure it’s nowhere near perfect and sometimes seems to throw logic out the window but, really, this is a product of Hollywood, are we really expecting anything different by now? I liked Money Monster and give it a three and a half out of five.