Saturday, 4 June 2016

Film Review: Money Monster (2016)


© Sony Pictures | Source: What's After The Credits?

USA; 98 min.; thriller, drama
Director: Jodie Foster
Writing: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Cast: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Emily Meade

"So what the hell kind of show are we gonna do next week?"  -- Patty Fenn

How corrupt is our financial system? How closely is it connected to the news industry? Can we ever feel truly secure in a world that is run by the rich and powerful? Are we lied to everyday? Who can we trust? Jodie Foster’s latest feature film asks many big questions and, to be honest, does so in a rather superficial, non-innovative way. But underneath all the genre clichés, distracting side plots and bumpy character developments, Money Monster offers crude, yet rich commentary on the media and how society has become numb in the face of genuine tragedy.

Charismatic Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a successful TV host. Together with his director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), he’s created a popular financial show in which he daily informs millions of viewers about the stock market – and, thus, influences them in their share buying behaviour. Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), one of his viewers, has lost all his money because Gates gave a bad tip, and now the young man is out to scold the ones responsible. He storms the TV studio with a gun and explosive vest, takes Gates hostage and demands answers. While Fenn tries to find them, Gates has to keep Kyle in line.

Most of the time, Money Monster feels like a half-baked product. Some elements make it seem like an exaggerated satire, others come with utter seriousness and a clumsily swinging moral club. There isn’t much subtlety when Kyle shouts frantically that the rich guys who run things don’t give an eff about the small people, when the corruption of big concerns and their CEOs is exposed, or when Gates suddenly discovers his sympathy for Kyle’s toils and troubles. As a viewer, I feel stuck somewhere between crazy reality TV and Wall Street, and the shifts in tone hinder the film from creating a coherent, engaging atmosphere.

The cast comes with lots of star power, and while Clooney and Roberts certainly know how to fill the screen with charismatic smugness and likeability, respectively, they don’t manage to breathe life into characters that already lack development and chemistry on paper. O’Connell tries hard to bring some human emotions into a film that stands between satirical overstatement and fast-paced thriller, and succeeds – but only until the script rushes him to the next plot point. His chemistry with Clooney, sadly, is given no proper room to build. Dominic West and Giancarlo Esposito are pretty much wasted on insignificant supporting roles.

In all other aspects, Foster has crafted a solid, although rather formulaic thriller. There are moments of tension and relief, there are snipers and a bomb threat and gunfire. Foster’s strongest suit, however, is how relentlessly she depicts our media culture. Kyle’s personal tragedy becomes a sort of entertainment for everybody around. While lives are at stake, people gather in bars to have a beer and follow the drama on telly, the internet explodes with memes and superficial commentary. The first thing that comes to Fenn’s mind after Kyle has taken over the TV studio is to position the camera in a way that viewers can get a good look at him. ‘If Gates survives, we need him on our show’, says a news anchor from a different channel. In a society that only seems to chase after entertainment and the next big sensation, Kyle’s tragedy is nothing but another hashtag.

Foster’s film might be conventional, a bit crammed and underdeveloped, but, in the end, it leaves an impression. It questions our the-show-must-go-on mentality, and it makes us think about our own viewing habits. How do we consume media? Which stories make us laugh? Which stories make us stay and not switch the channel? There’s a moment towards the end of the film when Fenn sees a funny meme about the hostage drama. She cracks a smile – then she chokes on it. We choke with her. Is it okay to laugh under these circumstances? What about compassion? What about decency? It doesn’t matter, the show must go on.


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