Jodie Foster directs a Wall Street fantasy that veers (too) close to reality
Film frequently serves as a way to tap into a cultural consciousness, to learn what is on the minds of a country and its citizens. Often you find this in the subtext—in the hidden themes and ideas behind the action—where the true message lies. To really know what is on the minds of a culture, all you need to do is look at the art.
Yes, there is a glut of superhero films, but even among these films the subtext is more serious: questions of privacy and power, of responsibility and humility, of both collective and individual rights are discussed in multiple ways in many of these films. You don’t even have to look that hard.
There have been several films that openly discuss the corruption of Wall Street and the fleecing of the ordinary citizen at their hands. These films range from comedies like The Other Guys to Oscar contenders like The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street. Two of these films are based on true stories. But what is fiction if not a way to fantasize? Reality can be restricting. Money Monster does what many Americans would love to do. Force the absurd, infotainment-based media to do their job through threat of violence and watch as the powerful have their feet held to the fire.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) hosts “Money Monster” a basic cable investment show akin to CNBC’s “Mad Money” hosted by Jim Cramer. Gates is a stereotypical TV personality: vapid, vainglorious, and simple. While his show is meant to be a caricature of what passes for modern economic journalism these days, it is virtually indistinguishable from dozens of shows that dot the cable news landscape. It is absurd, featuring sound effects and bikini dancers and investment advice that appeals to investors with the least amount of understanding of the system.
As with most shows of this nature, the talent reads a teleprompter, with a script prepared by someone else. His interviews are conducted mostly through his producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), the brains behind the scenes that whispers into his ear and keeps him from veering off script.
The fantasy comes when a desperate young man takes control of the studio with a gun and a bomb vest, holding the crew hostage, forcing them to investigate an $800 million dollar loss by a company call IBIS, which was billed as a safer investment than a savings account by Gates only a few weeks earlier. The fantasy builds from there as the crew of “Money Monster” tracks down the answers for a poor, dumb man with a sudden inheritance due to his mother’s death and desire to easily provide for his unborn child.
Directed by Jodie Foster, Money Monster isn’t an amazing film, but it is an effective and entertaining one. Since it is mostly fantasy, the filmmakers allow for lighter moments in the script, like when the eponymous host begs his viewers to invest in IBIS to save his life only to watch the stock tumble even further due to the amusing quirks of human nature.
Clooney and Roberts sell their roles with the onscreen chemistry the pair first found in Oceans 11 and in general, the film is well acted and well shot. There is nothing groundbreaking in this film—as I mentioned, many films have dealt with the subject of greed on Wall Street. Even when it is revealed that nothing especially illegal has transpired, any audience that has been paying attention over the past few years is more than aware that legality and morality are not mutually exclusive. But the film is a good way to spend an afternoon.
One of the more irritating fads over the past few years is the increasing frequency with which real television journalists appear as themselves in Hollywood productions. Many films do this as a way to inject realism into their narratives, but rather than making the film more plausible, it makes these “journalists” less credible.
There’s no question that Americans feel disillusioned by the fourth estate. The need for content tailored to advertising demographics over than actual news is made that much more embarrassing by the journalist interested in celebrity rather than investigation.
If this trend continues, and there are plenty of reasons to believe that it will, Money Monster may step out the realm of cleansing fantasy and into one of frightening reality.