“Money Monster,” a verbally snappy, ticking-clock, balls-in-the-air near-real-time hostage thriller-media satire, in the hands of director Jodie Foster, is compact and expansive, breezy and bitter, and attentively, lovingly layered (even when the plot falls to contrivances). It’s also a head-rush of twists and turns, behavioral asides. explicit, angry political exchanges and deeply dark passages. And: wish fulfillment for the fantasy that any banking or stock market CEOs would be punished for wrongdoing in the past decade of fiscal indecencies. (“This is just business and this is how business is done!” the bad guy insists with tonic assurance.) George Clooney brings his Coen-style goofball game to a womanizing, telegenic airhead, Lee Gates, a less-shrill version of “Mad Money”’s Jim Cramer. (The film bookends with real-life cable talking heads, slotting Wolf Blitzer as the news version of Gates, and concluding with small brisk bits from The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur, economist-activist Robert Reich—”Wall Street is a casino”—and journalist Matt Taibbi’s formulation of Goldman Sachs as a “vampire squid.”) Gates’ showcase is a live financial vaudeville, “Money Monster,” and the plot quickly clicks when a mad-as-hell weapons-bearing distraught investor (Jack O’Connell, “Starred Up,” “Unbroken,” excellent in all but his outer-borough accent) storms the studio to demand an explanation for how a stock Gates had picked lost $800 million-plus for its investors in a single afternoon. Julia Roberts plays the voice in Gates’ earpiece, his Jiminy Cricket of a producer who struggles to direct everyone’s safety while the show stays live around the world. (With almost every character in the large cast, work and action defines their character and morality.) The rhetoric doesn’t reach for Paddy Chayefsky’s elevated rhetoric, but the dialogue bristles with disillusionment with systemic wrongs. (But “Money Monster”’s best scene showcases the character of a female partner (Emily Meade), playing an unexpectedly wild variation on Beatrice Straight’s Oscar-winning single scene in Chayefsky’s “Network.”) It’s not “Dog Day Afternoon Slot”—the emotions stay on the surface, unlike in Frank Pierson’s classic hostage drama. As shot in widescreen by Matthew Libatique (Darren Aronofsky’s films, “Inside Man”), it’s cleanly propulsive filmmaking. Foster lets politics and jokes fall where they may. The script, which in its casual reveals of character and thematic shorthand resembles 1990s high-concept screenwriting, still ticks to the eccentric, compulsive rhythms of Foster’s three earlier features (“Little Man Tate,” “Home for the Holidays,” “The Beaver”). And fuck yeah: there’s a joyous amount of profanity, both rhythmic and staccato. With Caitriona Balfe, Dominic West, Giancarlo Esposito, Dennis Boutsikaris, John Ventimiglia, Condola Rashad, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito. 95m. (Ray Pride)
“Money Monster” opens Friday, May 13.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.