Thursday, 9 June 2016

Film Review: Money Monster

Jodie Foster returns to the director’s chair for Money Monster, a taut, nail-biting thriller that stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

Clooney plays Lee Gates, an obnoxious jerk who hosts a daytime stock market TV program called, you guessed it, Money Monster. Roberts co-stars as Patty, the long-suffering director who struggles to get Gates to stick to the script – but when Kyle (Jack O’Connell), a disgruntled working-class viewer who lost money on a tip Gates provided, rocks up to the studio and decides to hold everyone hostage live on air, Patty and Lee must work together to defuse the situation and get to the bottom of Kyle’s recent financial tailspin.

Money Monster is a strange breed; on the one hand it works as a perfectly serviceable white-knuckle hostage thriller that passes in almost real-time. The characters are broadly drawn but generally likeable, and Foster wastes no time in setting up the tense on-air Mexican standoff between Lee and Patty, Kyle, and the surrounding police squad commanded by Captain Powell (Giancarlo Esposito).

On the flipside, Foster also tries her hand at adding an edge of dark humour to the movie; whilst some of the gags land and perfectly highlight the absurdity of the situation, there are plenty of others than aimlessly sail past the target and will leave audiences scratching their heads. Who on Earth thought it would make sense to include a running joke about some particularly potent erectile cream? This hodgepodge of tones often causes Money Monster to feel like a confused beast that struggles to flourish at key moments in the narrative.

An element where the film does succeed is its scrutiny of Wall Street and all the accompanying lavishness that comes with it. Running concurrently to the siege is a subplot that concerns Diane (played by Outlander’s Catriona Balfe), a PR agent who represents the company that wronged Kyle, and her attempts to uncover the backdoor dealings that robbed him, and so many others, of their hard-earned cash. It’s not as in-depth as The Big Short or as harrowing as 99 Homes, but Money Monster does an admirable job of shaping a cohesive critique and distrust of the ‘big banks’.

An impressive quartet of performances from Clooney, Roberts, O’Connell and Balfe are what really elevate this film to the next level. Clooney starts off snarky but soon evolves into a much more sympathetic character come the end, whilst Roberts provides a decisive counterpoint as the calm and collected voice in his ear. 

It’s O’Connell (who audiences might recognise from ’71, 300: Rise of an Empire and Unbroken) who stands out as the star of the show; he’s a portrait of unpredictability and inner turmoil as he strides across the lavish set with tears brimming in his fear-stricken eyes. He’s terrifying, sympathetic and enthralling all at the same time, showcasing the length and breath of his acting talent throughout the taut 98-minute runtime. In a film loaded with wall-to-wall emotion and character drama, O’Connell stands head and shoulders above the rest, which is no mean feat alongside veterans like Clooney and Roberts.

The Verdict: 7.5/10  

A few tonal shifts can feel a little jarring, but sharp camerawork and some terrific performances from a collection of Hollywood heavy-hitters ensure that Money Monster is solid investment for anyone searching for something tense, tightly packaged and pulpy. Come for Clooney, but stay for O’Connell – the young Brit delivers yet another shining performance that should rightly earn him wider recognition and appreciation.

Money Monster is in cinemas across Australia now
This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.

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