Money Monster is big-ticket Hollywood’s most recent attempt at uncovering narratives from within the high-stakes world of multi-billion dollar global financial markets. And like its genre-mates, it tries very hard to be an edge-of-your-seat, mile-a-minute thriller that leaves you with sweaty palms, nervous tics and impending visions of economic doomsdays.
Does it succeed? Well, yes and no.
The plot is simple enough. A disgruntled investor holds an entire studio hostage and with several lives on the line, a big-shot CEO and $800 million are missing. It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.
The strength of ‘Money Monster’ isn’t in the story, which is uninspiring at best. The strength isn’t even in placing George Clooney and Julia Roberts in the lead roles. And this is a big let-down. Given two such veterans, you’d be forgiven for expecting stand-out performances, the kind that drags a mediocre story out of the doldrums.
So what does sell ‘Money Monster?’
In the opening sequences, Lee Gates (Clooney) – a schmucky Wall Street guru whose TV show has more bang than buck – highlights a fact about the world of high-finance you don’t normally consider – your money is invisible. You really don’t know where it is. Unless you’re the kind of apocalypse-fearing paranoid individual who stuffs the mattress with his/her life savings.
The world today runs on advanced fibre-optic, cross-ocean, open-all-night cables that are constantly whispering sweet-nothings into your ear, while shuffling dollars, yens, pounds, euros and rupees from one financial centre to another. The money you thought was in a bank down the street, may very possibly be used to buy drugs in Chicago, guns in Central Africa or farmland in Australia.
This inter-connected global village we’ve created for ourselves is at the centre of ‘Money Monster.’ Whit Camby’s (Dominic West) greedy little bugger of a character exploits it nearly perfectly, diverting millions of dollars from New York to South Africa in the blink of an eye. And in the immortal words of every Scooby Doo villain, he’d have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids – Gates and Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell).
Unfortunately, as delicious as the idea is, the execution isn’t very good. Clooney and Roberts (she plays Gates’ long-suffering producer Patty Fern) are good in patches and ordinary for the most part. There are exceptions though, particularly when Gates is begging for his life on live TV and, in the final minutes, when Fern takes charge of ‘Money Monster’ remotely.
O’Connell is quite all right as the nearly out-of-his-mind small-time investor, whose $60,000 loss drives him to take so drastic a step. Emily Meade’s (Molly, Budwell’s pregnant girlfriend) passionate and unexpected speech is the catalyst that nearly pushes everybody over the edge. And West and Caitriona Balfe (Diane Lester, West’s girlfriend and business associate) are good enough, as well, given that they have very little, really, to do.
Overall, ‘Money Monster’ is still worth a watch for the idea. Jodie Foster (whose hand is at the directorial helm) knows her way around thrillers – remember ‘The Silence of the Lambs,’ ‘Panic Room’ and ‘Flightplan?’
By Chandrashekhar Srinivasan