Cinema Dispatch: Money Monster

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Money Monster and all the images you see in this review are owned by TriStar Pictures

Directed by Jodie Foster

Once again, George Clooney is trying to save America’s soul through his world class acting skills!  Not too long ago he directed and co-starred in The Ides of March which was a vicious take down of the electoral process and the idea of there ever being a perfect candidate and then just last year he was in Tomorrowland which, from what I understand, is damn close to a Randian take on a Save the Future kids movie where the best and brightest separated themselves from the rest of the world to form a Utopian society that is no doubt run on renewable energy and good vibes.  Now we’ve got Money Monster; a movie he didn’t direct but seems to be right in his wheelhouse as it takes the finical system and investment culture head on.  Does this movie manage to make an intelligent statement on capitalism and Wall Street, or is this simply an angry and half-thought out screed that just shows how little the filmmakers and writers know about what they’re railing against?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with douche bag television personality Lee Gates (George Clooney) going about his normal everyday routine of giving financial advice on his show Money Monster with his trusty director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) in the booth making sure it all comes together instead of just being a big cacophony of egotistical noise radiating from the self-centered host.  Today is not going to be a normal day for anyone however as a complete stranger Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) manages to sneak his way into the studio with not only a gun but a bomb vest.  He takes everyone hostage, puts the vest on Lee, and begins his own personal broadcast to spout off about the ills of Wall Street and their hype men like Lee.  Specifically, the guy lost A LOT of money when a company called IBIS suspiciously lost eight hundred million dollars in a single day due to a supposed computer glitch and he wants answers for it; especially after Lee said on national television that the company was a sure thing for any investor.  Can Lee talk his way out of a bullet in the head?  What really DID happen to the money that IBIS claims to have lost?  How amazing are the ratings gonna be for THIS show?  Maybe he can get another desperate asshole to break in during sweeps…

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“On today’s episode, we see who wants to get shot in the face!  Any takers?”     …     “Come on people!  If you can’t decide amongst yourselves, then  I’m gonna choose for you!”

I liked this movie a lot.  It has some problems that keep it from being great (it thinks it’s WAY smarter than it actually is) but the performances carry this all the way to the end with George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Jack O’Connell stealing every scene they’re in.  It’s a movie that THINKS it knows what it is, but the end result falls short of that.  It wants to be many things but never really decides on a singular voice or vision and therefore feels muddled in a way that undercuts the true anger and cynicism that it purports to be about.  A stronger director, or at least a more distinct one, could have ran with this and gotten something truly brilliant instead of simply really good.  The fact that it HAD the potential to be fantastic makes it all the more disappointing that it couldn’t live up to it, but this still manages to have a brain in its head and a real mission statement that’s not always easy to find in films released this time of year.

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The movie wears its influences on its sleeve as it’s yet another film that feels the need to remake Dog Day Afternoon; a movie that STILL holds up to this day and (along with The Godfather) is the reason you know who the fuck Pacino is.  It’s honestly not a bad movie to try and emulate (I’m probably the ONLY person out there who was mildly entertained by John Q) and what’s important when trying to do a new one is to get your message on point as the premise is a perfect catalyst for commenting on our current society.  I think this movie does so with flying colors as it’s all about the 2008 finical crash and the ensuing demonization of Wall Street for the massive part it had to play in the collapse.  On top of that, it also wants to point the finger at the entertainers masquerading as financial advisors (George Clooney is absolutely an analogue for Jim Cramer) and the part they played in the sickening cycle that let these institutions rot from the inside.  For the most part, this is all great material to mine and while the movie is kind of shallow in its depictions of all the major players here (the TV personalities, the Wall Street scumbags, and the Average Joe stuck in the middle) the characters make sense and adequately portray the type they’re supposed to be representative of.  My problem with this aspect though is the framing.  I don’t care how much money someone lost.  If you bring a gun and point it at someone who DID NOT FORCE YOU TO INVEST YOUR MONEY as well as bring a bomb to kill all his co-workers, then that makes you the biggest bad guy.  There’s no coming back from that.  I won’t say the movie goes completely in that direction with Kyle’s character, but for at least the first half he’s almost shown as a hero because it’s his insane action that gets the ball rolling on an actual investigation as to what happened to all of IBIS’s money which ruined many investors’ lives.  The movie comes around at the end for me (maybe not intentionally, though maybe it is) where he reaches the end of his rope and it becomes clear that he’s no hero but just a guy who’s tired and angry.

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The main problem though is the tone.  At some points, it feels like an Oliver Stone movie (Natural Born Killers mostly) but is way too toned down for that kind of firebrand vitriol to have the impact it wants.  There are moments in here that DEFINITELY feel like someone wanted to make a cartoon in the vein of a Stone film; particularly the first fifteen minutes which are just shenanigans and obvious symbolic imagery to get us to not like Clooney and the production he runs.  It’s REALLY overplayed stuff too like one of the cameramen stuffing his face with a donut or having George Clooney sit on a toilet.  If there’s any opportunity to take a bit of shine and competence from the whole enterprise, the movie takes it, and it just doesn’t feel necessary.  If they had gone further with it and made this an out and out cartoon, it could have been a really dark satire that wouldn’t be unwelcome from a movie about this subject.  As it stands, the more cartoonish and obvious moments just don’t gel with the rest of the movie that stays grounded and serious.

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On top of that, the movie has some awkward moments that a tighter script would have fixed.  There’s like five subplots that get brought up for seemingly no reason and then dropped without much fanfare, particularly Kyle’s girlfriend who has a really solid scene (leaning the movie towards a Natural Born Killers direction) but then she’s out of the movie for good after that.  There’s also a poorly paced sequence in the middle where the cops are trying to infiltrate the building which goes on for about ten minutes.  The problem is that Kyle presumably is sitting still for the entire time; not doing anything or noticing that cops are entering the studio (anytime we cut back to him in this scene, that’s all he’s doing).  Sure, it was right after an emotional moment for the character, but simple survival instincts would suggest that he wouldn’t face a wall for that long when he’s holding people hostage!

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Despite all its flaws, the movie does succeed.  There’s always a sense of tension and dread as to whether or not Kyle is going to snap and kill someone (probably not Clooney but there are other people there) and there’s genuine intrigue as to what’s been going on at IBIS and whether anyone at the company is personally responsible for what happened.  Okay, it’s not THAT hard to figure out that someone IS responsible, but the reason why is only hinted at until the very end of the movie.  Also, enough can’t be said about how good the performances are.  George Clooney’s character goes through his own personal arc which allows him to flawlessly transition from Goofy Clooney to Serious Clooney, while Julia Roberts manages to be a strong presence as the only one with the slightest bit of a handle on the situation.  Also, While I didn’t care for his character all that much, there’s no doubt that Jack O’Connell pulls off the role of a REALLY upset rube who’s been pushed to the breaking point.  Everyone else is fine, though for the most part are one dimensional.  Dominic West isn’t in the movie all that much and his motivations seem rather ho hum and uninteresting, while Giancarlo Esposito doesn’t have much to do as the police captain trying to resolve the situation.  Lenny Venito is fun as the camera man, but he’s basically the “New Yorka” stereotype writ large.  Everyone manages to elevate the material their given, so while smaller roles aren’t as well-crafted as Clooney’s or Roberts’s, they still manage to keep your interest whenever they’re on screen.

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This is a movie that should have been better due to the resources it had available, but it has heart and a true sense of purpose.  It has the same kind of anger that Natural Born Killers has, but not the conviction to take it that far.  It’s about a subject that could be greatly explored, but the characters are cartoonish at points and the arguments made are very shallow.  It wants to be an important movie and the passion is there, but there just wasn’t enough skill behind the camera to take full advantage of what it had to work with.  I still recommend you see it as it’s definitely a fun movie.  It’s just not smart enough to be all it could have been.

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Money Monster [Blu-ray]

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