Entertainment trumps satire in lively global-finance comedy/drama
As topical entertainment (with George Clooney and Julia Roberts starring and Jodie Foster directing), Money Monster may sound like a rather risky proposition. The main story premise, after all, has to do with an enraged small investor taking a cable news business show hostage in the midst of a live broadcast.
There is indeed much that’s topical in this fast-paced little comedy-drama: investment scams, stock market debacles, the infotainment of TV and cable news, global banking, income inequality, suicide bombers and violent protest, the round-the-clock bombardments of digital media, etc. But Foster and company have taken considerable care in making sure that the satire and irony in this scenario remain pretty much at the service of entertainment, and not the other way around.
Clooney plays the lubricious and narcissistic star of the besieged cable news show, and Roberts is the quick-witted director in the control room, scrambling to keep Lee Gates (Clooney), his furious young captor Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) and the ongoing broadcast itself from spinning further into chaos. Meanwhile, SWAT teams and crisis specialists under the sober command of the lordly Capt. Powell (Giancarlo Esposito) are plotting the “extraction” of Kyle and his weapons.
Foster gives particularly close attention to Roberts’ performance, in a role that is central even though it involves very little physical action. Clooney gets plenty of half-ironic physical action within much the same restricted circumstances, but nothing to match the precision and conviction Foster shows in fine-tuned reaction shots and rapid-fire decision-making.
O’Connell (Starred Up, ’71, Unbroken), who is English/Irish, manages a credible East Coast working-class accent. Esposito’s Capt. Powell has the calm authority of a kind of exotic royalty.
Dominic West and Dennis Boutsikaris are good as two different kinds of scoundrel financiers, but neither is a match for Caitriona Balfe’s gently stinging rendering of the publicity assistant who gets the satisfaction of exposing them both.
Christopher Denham is good in spite of a role (as Gates’ overworked assistant) that overindulges the slapstick comedy elements in ostensibly satirical moments. Emily Meade, as Budwell’s estranged lover, is a terror in her moment as a reality-TV femme fatale. Lenny Venito gets the maximum out of a tiny part as a doggedly devoted cameraman named Lenny.
Overall, Money Monster alludes to a laundry list of political and economic controversies, but ends up backing away from its own potential for a more scathing kind of satire.