Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jodie Foster

Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Dominic West, Dennis Boutsikaris, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, Emily Meade, Aaron Yoo.

This thriller about an unusual hostage situation is a sort of Dog Day Afternoon for the post GFC crowd. It also plays to our own innate suspicion and distrust of financiers, bankers and corporate executives who deal in hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, both large and small, but who are rarely held accountable when it all goes pear shaped. Films like Charles Ferguson’s excellent Oscar winning documentary Inside Job and dramas like The BIg Short have all pointed the finger at bankers for the financial messes that have destroyed businesses, companies and even lives. But while Money Monster delivers a familiar message it does so through the guise of a more conventional and occasionally cliched suspense thriller.

Money Monster is a cable network financial show in which suave and flamboyant host Lee Gates (a perfectly cast George Clooney) offers tips on which stocks to invest in. He dances with scantily clad girls and has lots of bells and whistles to add excitement to an otherwise trashy show. Gates has recently been singing the praises of a company called IBIS Clear Capital, which he championed as “the investment of the millennium.” But now IBIS has somehow lost $800 million overnight. The company’s charismatic CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) blames the loss on a “technical glitch”, but he is nowhere to be found as the company tries to manage the crisis. As this episode of Money Monster opens, Gates is desperately trying to arrange an interview with the company’s PR liaison Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) to find out what has gone wrong.

But then a strange young man wanders into the studio. Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell, from Unbroken, 74, etc) pulls a gun and forces Gates to strap on a bomb vest. Then he demands answers as to what went wrong with IBIS. He has invested all of the money he received in an inheritance in the stock and is now in big financial trouble.

A heavily armed SWAT team surrounds the studio. The television crew keep the cameras rolling and the siege is broadcast live to a transfixed audience who watch the drama unfold with morbid fascination. As the siege plays out in front of the cameras, the show’s hard nosed producer Patty (Julia Roberts) remains calm and unflappable as she works behind the scenes to keep the volatile situation under control while trying to uncover the truth about the collapse of IBIS.

Written by Jamie Linden (Dear John, etc), Alan DiFiore (tv series such as Grimm and Da VInci’s Inquest, etc) and Jim Kouf (National Treasure, Rush Hour and tv series Grimm, etc), this thriller seems to almost play out in real time. This taut and tight suspense thriller will remind audiences of Sidney Lumet’s classic Dog Day Afternoon, as well thrillers as The China Syndrome and even Phone Booth. The scenes with Clooney and O’Connell share a crackling intensity and tension. But when the film moves outside of the confines of the tv studio and onto the streets on New York itself some of the tension dissipates.

Money Monster is Jodie Foster’s first film as a director since the quirky psychological drama The Beaver, and she effectively ramps up the claustrophobic tension and maintains the suspense throughout. I love Jodie Foster and in my eyes she can do no wrong. She brings years of experience, a sense of intelligence and movie making nous to the table. This is her fourth film as a director, and is easily her best work behind the camera.

Clooney brings authority and an easy charm to his role as Gates, and he shows the flawed and shallow character beneath the cocky and arrogant surface. Gates starts out as a pretty unlikeable smart arse, but Clooney slowly peels away some layers as he shows how the situation prods his moral awakening. Roberts has her best role for some time and is strong as the quick thinking Patty, and her strength under pressure reminds us of Jane Fonda’s character in The China Syndrome. Clooney and Roberts also share a great chemistry. O’Connell does well as the jerky, flustered and desperate Budwell, who is full of nervous energy and anger. But he reveals more layers to his character – he is not just some loser or villain, but a more sympathetic everyman who is a victim of both his own greed and circumstances.

West is given little to do as the oily Camby who is basically a one dimensional villain, while Dennis Boutsikaris is perfectly slimy as Camby’s second in charge. And Christopher Denham brings a much needed touch of humour to proceedings with his performance as Ron, the harried junior producer of the show.



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