You would be forgiven if Jodie Foster’s directorial career had so far passed you by. Her previous efforts Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays and blackly comic The Beaver were all professionally crafted but lacked the commanding voice of a seasoned filmmaker. Even the latter film, which saw a resurgent Mel Gibson communicating with a beaver hand puppet, turned out to be a relatively straightforward affair. It’s therefore promising that her fourth film, the sweaty, tense and entertaining siege thriller Money Monster, finally sees her tackle a subject with a little meat on its bones – even if results are still decidedly mixed.
George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the cocksure, Jim Cramer-like host of a cable money show, whose live broadcast is hijacked by a desperate gunman (Jack O’Connell) who lost everything when one of Gates’ stock tips crashed. Julia Roberts’ cool-headed director tries to keep the situation from spiralling out of controlling while her team dig deeper into what really happened.
Although he never quite convinces as a bombastic showman – attempting to rap will do that to any middle aged man – Clooney absolutely nails Gates’ transformation from smug, self-absorbed financial guru to petrified has-been as he realises how pointless and empty his life has become. He also rekindles some of that Oceans Eleven chemistry with Roberts, who plays his long-suffering director, despite the two mostly communicating via earpiece.
This is O’Connell’s movie, however. Possessing the earnest desperation and raging intensity of Al Pacino’s Dog Day Afternoon character, Sonny (that film being a key touchstone here), O’Connell is instantly empathetic as the broke and broken Kyle, proving he’s as comfortable with an American accent as he is with his own East Midlands twang.
Throughout Foster sticks close to siege thriller formula with her efficient direction, picking the right moments to ratchet up the tension with sharp, snappy camerawork. And once we’ve overcome a sluggish opening act, which dwells far too long on unnecessary pre-show preamble, you’ll be chewing on your fingernails until the credits roll.
Yet it lacks the necessary satirical bite to leave a lasting impression. Like The Big Short, The Wolf of Wall Street and Margin Call, Money Monster is driven by anger towards the financial system and the unscrupulous money men who ensured its collapse in 2008. But whereas those films had plenty to say about the string of cockups which led to that fiscal omnishambles, this movie merely parrots arguments we’ve heard before.
While Foster briefly attempts to explore society’s indifference to other peoples’ suffering, she lacks to gumption to follow through. And it’s this lack of narrative chutzpah which makes Money Monster a sound investment, but one that’s unlikely to set the market racing.
Runtime: 98 mins; Genre: Thriller; Released: 27 May 2016;
Director: Jodie Foster; Writers: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf;
Cast: George Clooney, Jack O’Connell, Julia Roberts, Dominic West
Click here to watch the trailer for Money Monster