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It feels like a bit of a coincidence that Jodie Foster’s Money Monster should turn up on UK screens the week after A Hologram for the King, because these are both essentially star vehicles about businessmen having existential crises, with the subtext of the story pretty heavily informed by the aftermath of the financial crisis. Together with The Big Short, I make that three films on the topic this year alone. None of them are actually bad, and I did enjoy The Big Short very much, but why has it taken seven or eight years for Hollywood to get around to addressing this stuff? They were rather quicker off the mark when it came to the September the 11th bombings and the subsequent unpleasantnesses.

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Hey ho. Money Monster is certainly the most generic of the three films I’ve mentioned. George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a gonzo stock market commentator and financial tipster who fronts a (quite tacky) daily show on a (presumably fictitious) TV network. He is, as you can probably guess, a deeply flawed, cynical human being, thoughtless towards his co-workers (mainly his director, played by Julia Roberts), full of himself – in other words, ripe for a transformative experience.

And lo, one comes along with immaculate timing, as the show is hijacked by angry viewer Kyle (Jack O’Connell, another instance of that weird thing where someone off Hollyoaks or Emmerdale somehow manages to land a sizeable part in a proper movie). Kyle is not pleased, because having followed Lee’s advice scrupulously, a freak meltdown has wiped out his $60,000 life savings and he would like an explanation. Surmising, probably correctly, that people like him are not often listened to by wealthy financial players, Kyle sticks Lee in a suicide vest and threatens to blow him up unless chapter and verse on what went wrong is forthcoming…

You see what they’ve done there? They’ve come up with a way to have a film which has lots of potentially fruitful character stuff, and addresses important contemporary world issues, but is also built around a time-honoured dramatic staple – in this case, a hostage crisis. All the bits and trappings of this sort of story get wheeled out – the police turn up and start talking to each other using words like ‘perimeter’ and ‘clear shot’, people in bars notice what’s happening on the TV and gather round to watch, you know the drill. A bit of wrinkle this time round is that a lot of this peripheral stuff happens on a global scale – places like Iceland, South Africa, and Korea – and I initially assumed Foster was making a point about the interconnectedness of the modern world. It turns out to be something more specific to the plot, but I think this is still left implied.

Foster orchestrates the story very adroitly, keeping all her plates spinning – there’s the stuff in the studio, the police operation to resolve the situation, and another plotline about an executive (played by Caitriona Balfe) at the company where the freak meltdown occurred trying to discover exactly what happened and getting more than she bargained for. Just for a touch of flavour and to keep things from being too worthy, Foster introduces an element of black comedy into the story that I honestly hadn’t expected – various attempts to sort everything out, which you might expect to have some traction in this kind of film, spectacularly fail with darkly funny consequences.

And it’s all very solidly done – the actors are all on form, the genre elements are well-handled, and the social comment stuff is pertinent without feeling too preachy. To be honest, it kind of feels like the film cops out a bit on this aspect – rather than sticking with the idea that the financial system is inherent flawed and that sooner or later things will fall down and people will suffer as a result, Money Monster reveals that the mini-crash driving the plot has a rather different origin. But then this is a mainstream picture from a big studio, it was never going to be in agreement with the manifesto of Occupy.

The climax of the film strains credulity a bit, and it is perhaps a shame for some elements of the conclusion to be quite so predictable, but on the whole this is an entertaining film with just enough intellectual chewy bits to make you feel good about yourself for watching it. It’s unlikely to go down as a career highlight for any of the major talent involved, but it passes the time very agreeably.

 

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