Money Monster - Cannes Film Festival 2016 Review
As well as a hostage thriller, Money Monster is a straight-out denunciation of economic inequality, and the unbridled behaviour of financial institutions. Jodie Foster’s directorial effort deftly combines suspense and critique, culminating in a grimly satisfying finale. The film was shown in Cannes today outside of the festival’s main competition.
The story begins with Lee Gates (George Clooney), a flamboyant stock picker and host of a popular finance TV show. In the middle of a broadcast, disappointed investor Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) interrupts, taking the whole set, along with Gates, hostage.
For Budwell has, on Gates’ televised advice, invested in the high frequency trading company Ibis, who has just lost 800 million dollars. His life savings frittered away, the young man is looking for answers - and ready to die for them. Meanwhile, in the control booth, show director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) frantically investigates the company to placate Budwell.
Writers Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf and Jamie Linden have crafted an excellent script, which manages to be simultaneously amusing and moving; it makes a serious case while remaining an effortless watch. The story shows the merit of Budwell’s cause: his example links economic inequality, dodgy dealings of financial actors and the complicity and laziness of the media. It’s only due to the character’s gun-toting insistence that light is finally shed on Ibis' unethical actions. What this says about our society, and our economic system, Foster makes clear - though it isn't anything that hasn't been said before (as for instance, in the recent The Big Short).
The story also astutely shows a worldwide TV audience cheering for the hostage-taker. Gates may be a television celebrity, but it’s Budwell’s plight and economic desperation that they recognise in themselves - not the TV star's rich comfort. Though they, as perhaps the general public in real life, are happy to walk away when their interest and anger falters.
As such, the script steers well clear of any sentimentality, even if the writers have planted entertaining red herrings: at several occasions, it seems like a saccharine ending is right around the corner, only to be flatly foiled.
Clooney and Roberts have a charming dynamic, and Roberts gives her character a convincing air of competence. Clooney is beguiling as the self-absorbed host, perfect both dancing around in ridiculous costume and looking genuinely terrified sitting in a bomb vest. However, it’s O’Connell who steals the show. His anger, pitiful state and naivety combine to provoke a mix of disgust and commiseration.
Foster directs skilfully and with energy, navigating the television set and its broadcast cameras with care.
The film isn’t without its hiccups, however. The way the situation escalates isn’t entirely credible - the police, along with Ibis’ CEO (Dominic West) would have undoubtedly reacted differently in real life. So might have Fenn - who seems more intent on turning the hostage situation into a watchable show than cooperating with the rescue team. There’s also, of course, the inherent irony of a film denouncing the evils of a financial system which privileges the ultra-rich being directed, acted and produced by said ultra-rich.
Money Monster remains nonetheless an entertaining watch and provides a timely (but heard before) critique of our financial system.
Marion Koob is The Digital Fix’s Cinema Editor. She will be tweeting throughout the festival @marionkoob.