Movie Review: Money Monster

New thriller directed by Jodie Foster shows a hostage crisis unwind live on TV

Money Monster
Directed by Jodie Foster
With George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito

Some films are lucky with their timing. The financial thriller Money Monster comes out just as international markets have plunged into turmoil.

The gimmick in Money Monster is that the film takes place in almost real time, covering events that take a little more than an hour and a half.

Jodie Foster directed the film but does not appear in it. She and her screenwriters take some tips from classic Alfred Hitchcock films, with most of the action in a restricted space, as in Rear Window and Rope. The latter film also runs in real time. Hitchcock also has a famous quote about creating suspense by placing a bomb in a room and them making the audience wait.

The film's title refers to a show on a financial cable TV network, hosted by Lee Gates (played by George Clooney). It is one of those campy shows where the host wears ridiculous costumes — boxing gloves and a robe, or ghetto style bling —and is flanked by dancers as he enters the set. He has an assortment of sound effects and props he uses as he recaps the markets' winners and losers. 

Gates gives out investing advice on the show, usually based on some rumor he heard or some tip from a PR person. He doesn't take it very seriously. It is just a part of the format of the show.

A stock that Gates recommended highly instead spectacularly crashed, and the CEO of the company, an investment firm that touts its complex market algorithm, was supposed to be a live guest but didn't show up. In fact, his whereabouts are a mystery.

The suspense gets going when a seeming delivery man named Kyle (Jack O'Connell) wanders onto the set with a gun and forces Gates to but on a vest packed with plastic explosives. Kyle has a trigger switch, and the vest will go off if he lets go of it. He had hoped to confront the absent CEO, but has to make due with the show's host.

Kyle took some of Gates' investment advice and now he wants answers about why the stock tanked so badly.

That basic setup carries us through the rest of the film, as answers about what happened to the stock are a bit hard to find. Kyle insists that the show stays on the air, and of course it becomes the hottest show on TV.

The action is not restricted to the financial show's set. The show's director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) tries to handle the situation from the control room, feeding advice to Gate through his earpiece.

It is not the flashiest role Roberts has ever had, but it is one that requires someone who can project a sense of authority and focus while basically sitting in a chair.

Clooney and Roberts are not actually together on screen very much, each is in a different room, but the rapport between them is essential to the success of the film.

The police eventually show up, and in keeping with current headlines, are not depicted in the best of lights. Giancarlo Esposito as Captain Marcus Powell never seems in control of his men and his efforts to stop the hostage crisis are a shambles and his plan is risky at best. The bumbling but heavily armed police add to the tension. He is the opposite of Roberts' character.

The thriller also turns into an investigative news story, as the only thing that will get Kyle to relent is an answer about the stock's performance. While fictitious, the plot is reminiscent of recent scandals where some investments were not what they seemed to be at first glance.

The role of cable TV and social media also becomes a focus, as the film includes some real-time reactions to the hostage crisis, and Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks appears as himself.

The film does push the envelope of believability by the end, but the tension from the suspense is so high that the plot holes are not so apparent.

Money Monster has some of the same flavor as Dog Day Afternoon, a 1975 film about a bank robbery that also became the hottest show on television. That was a true story though, and most people knew how it would turn out.

Most likely, Money Monster won't become a classic like Dog Day Afternoon, but it offers some solid acting and some unexpectedly tight direction from Jodie Foster, who has not so far been known for directing thrillers. Her previous three films were a drama and two dramatic comedies.

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