Money Monster (dir. Jodie Foster)

Posted: May 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Money Monster” is a by-the-numbers hostage film with one dimensional characters that seems like it is trying to say something about Wall Street, or Capitalism, or something. The film ultimately says nothing. The problem is, if you want to make a film that indicts Wall Street, your villain can’t be one single corrupt man.  That implies that the system is fine except when a bad apple abuses it. In fact, initially the film presents the situation where the media, and the fictitious company responsible for an $800 million shareholder loss, blame the loss on a computer glitch in an algorithm the company uses for high frequency trading. The film later tells us, courtesy of a Korean character that wrote the algorithm, that the algorithm doesn’t allow for that to happen, and there’s nothing wrong with it in and of itself. Any loss, therefore, was caused by human error.  The problem with that is, though, in real life these algorithms game the system in a legal way. Michael Lewis wrote a book about high frequency trading called “Flash Boys” about this issue. In the world of “Money Monster”, high frequency trading is fine unless a single, corrupt CEO takes his company’s computer program off line to hide a bad investment. Okay.

 

This simplification undercuts any hope that the film could be seen as an indictment of Wall Street or Capitalism in the way that, say, “The Big Short” (also based on a book by Michael Lewis) was. I’m not above making a multi-faceted enemy into a single entity for narrative simplicity (USA Network’s “Mr. Robot” does, and it does it very well), but this film creates a single, convenient villain and excuses the rest of the system around that villain. So yes, we have an evil CEO named Walt Camby (Dominic West) who illegally diverted funds in his company to invest in a South African mine that he manipulated to have a strike so that the price of stock would go down. When the strike didn’t end has he thought he had planned for, the price crashed lower, he lost the money, and he used a fake glitch to hide the loss. If this film wanted to indict Wall Street, it would have had numerous CEOs doing legal but immoral things to get themselves richer but screw everyone else, like their investors. That would show that the system is rigged to allow people to legally do horrible things to the economy. Instead, we have an evil person operating in a system that, the film implies, works well when evil people aren’t interfering. This is about as much a criticism of Wall Street as Hillary Clinton saying she told bankers to “cut it out” (whatever “it” is).  When our main star is George Clooney, who recently held a multi-million dollar fundraiser for Clinton, is it any wonder the criticism of “Money Monster” is as tame and hollow as a promise from Clinton to rein in Wall Street?

 

Clooney stars as Lee Gates, an obvious stand in for Jim Cramer, the host of the unorthodox CNBC show “Mad Money”. “Money Monster”, which is also the same of Gates’s show within the film, is a little late in criticizing Cramer, as Jon Stewart years ago eviscerated Cramer’s poor advice in a 30 minute take down on “The Daily Show”. In any event, Gates is a semi-obnoxious host of an investing show and also a shill for various companies. He sticks to talking points and is more a creature of the system than a journalist. His long suffering director, Patty (Julia Roberts) is about to leave the show, and that’s about all we ever know of her. She is a one dimensional character whose job in the movie is to talk in Gates’s ear or, occasionally, shout at people. During the filming of an episode, a blue collar delivery man, Kyle (Jack O’Connell) walks onto the set, pulls out a gun, and forces Gates to put on a bomb vest. Kyle lost $60,000 by investing in Camby’s company based on Gates’s suggestion in a previous episode, and Kyle wants to know how $60,000 could just disappear, and wants a better explanation than “a glitch”.

 

Kyle is also a one dimensional character, and the only character who can be described as a regular, working class man. He’s portrayed as dumb and pathetic. He leaves his gun on a table near his hostage, his girlfriend says he cries during sex, and he’s clumsy. For a film that is supposed to be arguing against the financial system, it has a very low opinion of the middle and lower class. Why the film decided to attempt to make Gates a sympathetic figure (a rich TV host) or Patty a hero (probably a high-five or low-6-figure-a-year cable TV director) but shit on the working class character is a weird bit of class warfare within the film. Other non-rich characters are the unlikable police characters, Kyle’s girlfriend (Emily Meade) who is portrayed as being nothing but anger and exists in the film only to emotionally wound Kyle before disappearing from the film, and lowly people in the production, who are largely there for comic relief (rub new erection cream on penis and bang another person in the office).  The other “heroes” of this movie are the PR director for Camby’s company (Caitriona Balfe), who happens to be having an affair with Camby (because stealing $800 million isn’t enough to make him evil, he has to cheat on his wife too), and some computer hackers from Iceland. Okay.

 

The film proceeds like your standard hostage film. It is mildly interesting as it chugs along, but since you know Kyle’s not going to kill anyone and you doubt that bomb vest is real from the get-go, there’s not much suspense or tension. The film becomes pretty far fetched when we’re left to believe that the network would allow all of these events to air live, that the cops wouldn’t intervene when the hostage and the hostage-taker are literally walking down a busy street, that the cops would allow civilians to get REALLY CLOSE to a bomb vest as their walking, and other lunacy. The film often strains credulity more than it earned any willing suspension of disbelief. The mystery Gates et al. are trying to solve is fairly obvious form the get go, so you’re just getting details instead of filling them in.

 

The end of the film is uselessly cynical. Kyle is killed, Gates becomes slightly less of an asshole, and the audience that was watching all of these events unfold go back to their lives, not caring about bigger issues regarding Wall Street or the economy. Oh, and Camby becomes an internet meme and faces criminal charges. A cynical ending to a film about Wall Street malfeasance, people getting away with crimes, and people not doing anything about it can be done well (again “The Big Short”), but this film pretty much kills the working class character, states that all is well with the system because the bad apple has been punished, and isn’t it nice that our upper class cable news employees are slightly less of assholes. This movie is an indictment of people who care about these issues, and insults them…no matter how many Robert Reich soundbites it chalks on before the closing credits to pretend the film is arguing about our rigged economy.  If “The Big Short” is the Bernie Sanders of movies, “Money Monster” is the insulting, cop out, unfeeling, divorced from the working class Hillary Clinton of movies. C.

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