I haven’t watched much of Jodie Foster’s directorial output. Although, in fairness, The Beaver- her directing debit starring Mel Gibson when he was well into his crazy period- was an effective, emotionally driven story that was competently- if not imaginatively- filmed. She won’t be winning any awards for it, but it was a charming and inoffensive directorial debut. One felt that she was playing it safe for her effort which, when you consider the mess that Ryan Gosling made of his first effort on the other side of the camera, is an understandable decision.
And so along comes Money Monster, a movie that is part crime thriller, part anti-consumerist/capitalism message and part character study. It has George Clooney, always a reliable screen presence, and Julia Roberts, who has recently shed her rom-com personality to show some considerable versatility underneath that sweet smile. It has a promising newcomer in a lead role, too, but more on that later. It even has an exciting premise which, at least to begin with, looks like it could be taking the tired thriller genre in a new direction. Sadly, though, much like Foster’s other effort behind the camera that I can recall, it seems too content to tread the same path as many a thriller before it, telling its story in a decent way but offering nothing new to the genre. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable enough for its running time, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to make one think that Jodie Foster won’t be a successful director in the future.
Clooney plays Lee Gates, a man who hosts a weekly television show where he advises share holders on the hottest deals to invest in. One day, he makes a bad call, and people end up losing their investments- and their whole world. Disguised as a deliveryman, a down of his luck waster called Kyle storms in, puts a gun to Gates’ head, straps a bomb vest to his hostage and explains that he lost his entire life savings due to te bad investment call the show’s host made. What follows starts off as a typical hostage thriller, evolves into a corruption drama involving a rich business engaging in fraud, and even takes time to comment om both the greed of the capitalist world and the public’s obsession with social media and celebrity personality. To say that a lot of themes are covered would be an understatement. Suffice to say, by the end of the movie’s second act, you are feeling sympathy towards Kyle, hatred towards the fraudsters who cost him everything. That in itself isn’t a massive shock- movies such as this often indulge in this dramatic curveball- but the way it does it is effective. The ending is actually somewhat cynical: there are unnecessary shootings, the sympathetic character still dies, and corruption and fraud doesn’t magically disappear. The way that social media is depicted as erupting upon the news breaking is a good way of reflecting how the modern world works, although for me, perhaps the ending speech from Dominic West’s corrupt businessman character is a little heavy handed, explaining a theory that the movie has covered effectively already. Beating the audience over the head with the cultural theme of the movie doesn’t necessarily give it bigger dramatic effect.
Foster, as I’ve said before, is early into her directorial career, so it is wise that she has picked good scripts to work with, rather than poor scripts that she wants to adapt into something better. This movie demonstrates that she has a good understanding of pacing, plot development and how to shoot a genre movie. Its all competent but, as I stated before, its a little safe. But certainly the movie shows there’s a promising career for her both behind and in front of the camera. The plot struggles when it moves away from the confines of the TV studio and into the streets, but I won’t reveal anymore lest I get accused of spoilers. The movie is at its best when it is throwing one problem after another at us, although, obviously, those situations need to be resolved- and that is where the pace slows and the movie stumbles a little. I say it stumbles, because it certainly doesn’t fall.