Editor’s Notes: Money Monster is out today in its respective home video format.
Money Monster (Sony Home Entertainment), directed by Jodie Foster, combines a real-time thriller with three first-rate star performances and a screenplay that reflects the anger and frustration of Americans who feel victimized by Wall Street.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) hosts a TV show entitled Money Monster, in which he dispenses financial advice and stock tips amid clownish dance routines, wild graphics, and clever patter. He places himself in this buffoonish role to capture viewer attention and make dry financial reporting entertaining.
While Lee is live on the air, a shadowy figure sneaks onto the set. Waving a gun, he orders Lee to put on a vest filled with explosives. The intruder is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken), a low-wage laborer who lost his life savings by taking the advice dispensed by Lee on his show. Kyle demands to know how his and thousands of others’ investments were wiped out by a computer “glitch.”
In the control booth, Lee’s director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), communicates with him through his earpiece, trying to keep tensions under control while the police move in en masse to deal with the hostage situation.
The film is a showcase for Clooney and O’Connell who, together, run the range of motions from fear to anger to disillusion to empathy, all in well-tempered performances. Though the two men are initially adversaries, their relationship changes as the hostage situation gives Kyle an opportunity to express his frustration while Lee drops his showman’s veneer to see Kyle as a man hurt by information he imparted on the air.
Clooney — for all his movie star looks — delivers in the acting department. His Lee is terrified as Kyle points a gun at him and holds his finger on a remote trigger poised to detonate Lee’s vest and blow up the whole building. The trademark Clooney twinkle gives way to dread at the prospect that his life, and others’, can end in seconds. Later, with the help of Patty and an amazingly loyal TV crew, Lee tries to get the answer Kyle is seeking.
O’Connell is more than a match, acting-wise, for Clooney and steals most of the scenes they’re in together. He has the more flamboyant role, and that helps, but his conviction and ability to lose himself in the character of a man beaten down by circumstances over which he has no control are exceptional.
Ms. Roberts’ Patty brings authority and a steadying influence to the tense situation. More a supporting than a starring role, Patty mediates among trigger-happy cops, her producer, a corporate representative spouting talking points, hostage taker Kyle, and Lee. Roberts’ star power makes Patty’s quick thinking and rapid-fire orders — skills she’s had to hone in the world of live TV — easily believable.
Strong supporting performances are turned in by Caitriona Balfe as a corporate public relations executive, Giancarlo Esposito as the police captain in charge of the hostage situation, Dominic West as an elusive corporate CEO, Christopher Denham as a harried producer, Lenny Venito as a studio cameraman, and Emily Meade as a woman who sheds a compelling light on Budwell.
This is the season of superheroes and cartoons and 3D. Money Monster is none of these, and yet is one of the best movies out right now. This is Jodie Foster’s fourth feature film as director, and easily her best. She knows how to pace a film briskly, avoid padding, and sustain suspense, and is especially adept at portraying the everyday complexities of live television broadcasting.
At a tight 90 minutes, Money Monster, rated R, has touches of humor but is foremost a gripping thriller, with suspense building each minute. Real-time movies are often problematic because the gimmick overrides the story. Not so here. Time passes naturally as parallel editing allows us to see what’s happening outside the studio.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include deleted scenes, the featurettes “George Clooney, The Money Man,” “Inside the Pressure Cooker,” and “Analysis of a Scene - The Showdown,” and a music video.