I liked “Money Monster,” thought I’d that off the top. If that seems like an unusual or lame or unusually lame way to start a film review, that’s fine. I wanted to state it firmly. Because there are things in the Jodie Foster-George Clooney political thriller that just made the rounds of the ongoing Cannes Festival that should go wrong.
To start with, “Money Monster” quickly violates two of my dearest “signs that you’re watching a bad movie.” One is the shot of a long row of police cars, sirens screaming, speeding to an active crime location. The other is the shot of a bank of dozens of television screens in a studio. I hate that shot. When the pain is doubled by a montage of viewers “out there in America,” it’s a bad sign of stink. (I don’t think any character asks “Are you watching this?” Because no film ever recovers from “Are you watching this?”)
Stinking would be expected. Asides from “Network” and some others, movies about the dangers of television die of congested hyperbole disease. The film world has warned about small screen dangers since The Sweet Smell of Success in the fifties (at a time when movie stars still smoked whole trees onscreen). These movies never start from the premise, “Isn’t it amazing that, for the first time in human existence, people thousands of miles away can experience the same events instantly?” They don’t praise the creation of a common culture, or stretching the lifespan of great movies – like those old musicals featuring Clooney’s aunt Rosemary. Nah. Never expect people to say positive things about rivals.
Sure, an armed gunman (Jack O’Connell, from “Unbreakable”) could theoretically hijack a financial news program, driven to violence by losing money on a stock prediction made by the glib and arrogant host (Does George Clooney know his vertical, or what?). But we’ve had the boob tube for about seventy years now. Even the craziest Americans deal with its artificiality without taking over a studio at gunpoint. So what are these films really getting at that’s worthwhile?
Despite my reservations, I enjoyed the film. Part of it is that Foster, as director, gets exactly-what-you-want-out-of-your-stars out of her stars – Clooney and Julia Roberts (as a producer) – quick identification with the characters and a sense of comfort in a storm. The Sorkinesque script – despite being way on-the-nose – is clever, with splashes of thoughtful humor. There are two or three times “Money Monster” goes against and even playfully exposes convention. The best is a hostage negotiation scene that humorously goes to heck.
“Money Monster” skillfully exploits the populist target of the moment–evil corporations. Going for a big, rousing populist sweep in a political thriller is a hard thing to do, and if it does not work it is easy to mock. Late in the film, Clooney and O’Connell walk down Wall Street to confront a corporate CEO, a man so evil that he owns his own jet. (He is also a liar, a criminal and an adulterer. I’m surprised he doesn’t force cute little slave puppies to run on giant hampster wheels to power his factories. Although they never denied it.) When they make that walk, you are with them in spirit. You’re practically chanting “Attica.” Even if you can see the fakeness of the whole thing. “Money Monster” does exactly what it condemns. But I was cool with that, this time.