The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Money Monster

If Dog Day Afternoon and The Big Short got together and had a baby, it might look something like Money Monster. The film, directed by Jodie Foster, is both an edge-of-your-seat hostage drama and a (sort-of) expose of Wall Street corruption. If it works slightly better on the first count than on the second, that's okay, because the performances are so good and the pace is so quick that you don't really have time to quibble until after it's over.

George Clooney plays Lee Gates, the gimmick-loving host of a cable financial analysis show called "Money Monster." (Think Jim Cramer on "Mad Money.") During a live broadcast, an armed gunman named Kyle Budwell (Unbroken's Jack O'Connell) sneaks into the studio and storms the set, forcing Lee to put on a vest loaded with explosives. Kyle reveals that he lost a lot of money by following investment advice given on the show, and now he wants answers as to why that advice left him broke. Lee's director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), tries to help him calm Kyle from the control room, while simultaneously broadcasting the events to a nationwide audience, at the gunman's insistence. The more they try to stall, the more Kyle wants to know why the company he invested in, IBIS, inexplicably lost $800 million overnight. Behind the scenes, Patty tracks down Walt Camby (Dominic West), the CEO of IBIS, to compel his on-air explanation.

Money Monster is tense because it basically plays out in real time. We watch things unfold just as Lee's television audience does. The screenplay written by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf piles one complication upon another, creating suspense that increases consistently as the story plays out. The best scenes are those that subvert our expectations of hostage dramas, such as the one in which Kyle's pregnant girlfriend is brought in to talk him down and ends up telling him the exact opposite of what he probably needs to hear at that moment. There are additionally well-placed beats of humor to help balance out the tense proceedings. As the director, Foster hits the gas pedal immediately and never lets up. There is something happening every single second of this movie, ensuring that your attention never wanes and your interest never decreases.

Excellent performances also help make the film compelling. George Clooney is terrific as Lee Gates. He emphasizes what the character truly is: a showman with no true knowledge of finance. His job is to sell the idea of wealth to an audience. It never occurs to him that his advice might have actual repercussions. Clooney shows how that kind of awareness gradually develops within Lee once he's confronted. Julia Roberts is also very good, effectively depicting the manner in which Patty remains calm and focused in the middle of a chaotic situation. The standout, though, is Jack O'Connell, who brings an identifiable and palpable sense of righteous anger to Kyle. Through the actor's efforts, we empathize with the character, despite his aggressive methods. O'Connell is dazzling in the role.

The one area where Money Monster hits a small bump is in its presentation of financial scandals. The one at the center of the plot has been radically simplified to make it understandable for mass audiences and to create an easily identifiable villain. That's fine, but it also has the effect of occasionally coming across a bit thin. Anyone with even a remote understanding of things like the Savings & Loan scandal will recognize that real-life corruption is far more complicated, far more devastating, and much harder to pinpoint than the film gives it credit for. Money Monster has a need to wrap its theme around the hostage drama. The desire to build tension often wins out over the desire to fully explore scandals that have caused people like Kyle to lose their life savings. The film still has something worthwhile to say; it just doesn't say it as powerfully as films like 99 Homes and The Big Short did.

So long as you don't go in expecting it to be a hard-hitting look at Wall Street dishonesty, that limitation is not a deal-breaker. Money Monster is mostly riveting, as both a thriller and as a reminder that we all need to pay closer attention to what our financial institutions are doing.

( out of four)

Money Monster is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality and brief violence. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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