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Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster” is a populist thrill ride

money monster george clooney
To this day, it still bugs me that more people didn’t give Jodie Foster’s previous directorial outing The Beaver a chance. I can understand why it was shunned, having had the misfortune of being released at the height of star Mel Gibson’s unpopularity, but still. Foster and the film deserved better. Now, she seeks at the very least some box office redemption with Money Monster, a high profile thriller. Debuting earlier today at the Cannes Film Festival, I’ve already seen the movie and can vouch for it as a solid outing by Foster. It doesn’t really break any new ground, but it’s entertaining, which certainly counts for something. You’ll see what I mean later this week, when the flick hits theaters.

The movie is a financial thriller of sorts, set within the world of a hostage situation. Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of a stock market tip show called Money Monster. There, he preens for the camera while expounding on sure bets. Then one day, a man named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) comes on set with a gun and a bomb, taking the production hostage. Kyle lost his life savings listening to Lee and now he wants answers. Initially, Lee and his producer Patty (Julia Roberts) are just trying to stay alive, but Kyle’s questions lead them to questions of their own. Soon, they find that they might just have stumbled upon a conspiracy. Foster directs from a script credited to the trio of John DiFiore, Jim Kouf, and Jamie Linden. In addition to the main trio, the cast includes Caitriona Balfe, Christopher Denham, Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Meade, Lenny Venito, Dominic West, and more. Cinematography is by Matthew Libatique.

At its best, Money Monster evokes the Occupy Wall Street movement and gives both Clooney and O’Connell some strong material to work with. Foster also emphasizes some of the satirical elements of the script, though she also goes all in on some of the unneeded comedic elements as well. Still, when it’s Clooney doing his thing or O’Connell having understandable rage, things are genuinely compelling. The story itself works, sometimes in spite of the filmmaking choices at hand. That just keeps this from being a great movie, instead just settling for being a good one. It likely will be a crowd pleaser though, so there’s certainly that. Personally, I greatly prefer The Beaver, but that’s me. This one just plays it a bit safer, that’s all.

In terms of awards, I think the buzz would really have to build for this one to be remembered all year long. Assuming everything goes well for the flick, look for Sony to campaign it in Best Picture, Best Director (for Foster), Best Actor (for Clooney), Best Actress (for Roberts), Best Supporting Actor (for O’Connell), Best Original Screenplay (for DiFiore, Kouf, and Linden), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. It’s probably all beyond reach, but anything is possible, so I wouldn’t completely count it out of things yet. A strong box office haul would be a big help for this one. If it dies financially, it won’t even get a chance to start off on the awards trail.

Overall, Money Monster is just fine. An awards player? Probably not. At the same time though, this is an enjoyable thriller that suffers mostly from just not being able to live up to the moving standards of that first trailer. If you’re a fan of Clooney or Roberts, they’re solidly satisfying, while O’Connell continues to prove that he’s a star in the making. Foster really should direct more, as she’s a skilled filmmaker, albeit one who still is growing as a director. Again, go seek out The Beaver, but this weekend Money Monster is a solid enough option as well. Give it a shot and see what you think…

Be sure to check out Money Monster, in theaters on Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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