A star-studded film that both entertains and makes a smart comment on our obsession with reality television
Jodie Foster directs George Clooney as Lee Gates, a financial guru and the cocky host of TV show Money Monster. Gates is an unconventional adviser who mixes song, dance and game show gimmicks with his stock market analysis and advice (the closest analogy would be the pre- and post-show analysis of Indian Premier League matches).
Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), the producer of the show, the voice in Gates’ earpiece, is the perfect counterfoil to his high-handedness. She’s calm, in control and on the brink of moving to a new job.
The story unfolds the day after a major listed company, Ibis, has declared a “glitch" in its algorithms has led to the loss of $800 million. The chief executive officer, Walt Camby (Dominic West), due to appear as a guest on Money Monster, is said to be mid-air between Geneva and New York and therefore unable to attend the show. Unable to reach him, Patty lines up Ibis’ chief communication officer.
It seems like business as usual until a gun-wielding man named Kyle (Jack O’Connell, adequately grungy and sweaty) sneaks on to the live show set and holds Gates hostage, straps a bomb to Gates’ chest and threatens to blow him to shreds unless he gets some answers about the ‘glitch’. The man, it turns out, is a small investor who followed Gates’ tip and is now a broke victim of the big financial bust.
Money Monster now becomes a giant reality show, watched the world over, including Korea, South Africa and Iceland. Foster does not just cut to these countries arbitrarily. Each one links in to the hedge fund fraud. The film is a smart comment on our obsession with drama, our fascination with reality TV and the irony of how it is spectacle and social media fodder but is forgotten seconds after it ends.
The hostage crisis in the TV studio is sharply edited and designed, and the tension palpable as we see Patty managing the situation from her control room and the cops strategizing from their vans outside. It becomes even more interesting when the journalists become the investigators and begin digging into the ‘glitch’.
But then the screenplay (Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf and Jamie Linden) slides towards the farcical. Kyle and Gates are drawn into the Stockholm syndrome, with Gates beginning to empathize with how the little guy gets affected by unethical capitalist practices. What buoys up the film is Clooney’s absolute control and charisma and the chemistry and easy sparring between him and the wonderful Roberts.
Unlike The Big Short, Money Monster does not tie itself up in jargon and practices, but explores the larger conspiracy and its human impact, particularly on the small investor. Foster deftly handles tonal shifts between humour, satire and comment to deliver a timely and thrilling entertainer.