This very entertaining, admirably concise thriller from Jodie Foster – probably her most successful film yet as director – begins with TV huckster Lee Gates (George Clooney) telling his viewers (and us) that the financial world now comprises an impossibly confusing mess of largely imaginary quanta.
One might reasonably expect the film to develop as a head-stretcher in the style of The Big Short, but the writers have something more propulsive in mind. If anything, the scheme that gradually unfolds is a little too easy to comprehend. If high-end financial skulduggery were that straightforward we’d all be at it.
Foster and crew are more interested in how financial machinations distort the lives of ordinary people. The film’s title refers to a stock-market tipster show in the style of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money on CNBC. Gates and Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), his producer, are surprised when Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), an ordinary working-class Joe, bursts into the studio and reveals a bomb beneath his jacket.
He has lost a relative fortune on one of Gates’s tips and now seeks retribution. Elsewhere, Walt Camby (Dominic West), CEO of the company that crashed, flies the world while his PR wonk (Caitriona Balfe) tries to manage the bad publicity.
Yes, you’ve called it right. Money Monster is a shameless variation on a template launched in Dog Day Afternoon and developed further in The King of Comedy. Kyle develops a dubious fame that is only heightened by the potential of murderous mayhem. Tension mounts as a deadline approaches.
Money Monster is less caustic than either of those earlier films. Gates and Kyle develop an affection long before there is time for Stockholm syndrome to set in. But Foster’s thumping direction and the fine performances drive the action forward relentlessly. O’Connell, always great as a lost soul, eats up the screen with anger, uncertainty and poorly concealed vulnerability.
Roberts almost makes something of the “supportive female” trope. Clooney’s performance is trickier to assess. He throws himself into the part with admirable gusto. We are, however, so used to the urbane grey fox charming us from Lake Como that it’s difficult to believe him as a vulgar, bellowing gimmick-merchant in the School of Cramer.
None of this matters much. Foster’s film sweeps most reservations aside with its careering momentum. It’s nippy, nasty and (at least as significant) just 98 minutes long.