Money Monster is a very rare animal. It's an uncommon beast in that you don't often get an effective social commentary in a taught and hand-wringing thriller. Rarer still is having Hollywood royalty (George Clooney & Julia Roberts) front and center.
It's understandable after all. If you fail at your attempt to examine culture and ask an audience to take a closer look in the mirror, then you just come off preachy - or worse yet arrogant. How risky is it then to use a studio's money to pay some of the biggest movie stars on the planet with something that precarious?
It's why we don't often get to see this kind of movie. Careers marred and movie flopped.
Somewhere between Network and Dog Day Afternoon, George Clooney's Lee Gates is the host of Money Monster. An over the top Financial show which is directed by Julia Robert's Patty. The movie starts setting up the relationship of the two while being plunged into the hustle and bustle of the pre-show prep. We walk through the backstage chaos while the two discuss the stage-direction and guests. Patty's the extremely capable, show's directer, while Gates is the self-styled master of the universe. An egotist who barely pays attention to anything that doesn't concern him. It's clear that this is going to be the usual run-through. That is until Kyle (Jack O'Connel) enters from behind the stage, armed with a gun and a bomb vest for the shows host.
Although Money Monster's focus is the clandestine machinations of the financial institutions that brought the financial crash in 2008. Rather than explain the hows, a la The Big Short, Money Monster questions the culpability of the faceless institutions. The invisible highwaymen that took so much that global economic system failed, only to be bailed out with no repercussions.
Similarly, Money Monster asks us to ponder our responsibility as an audience. With so much access to media streams and social networks, do we have an obligation to take action?
Thankfully although the themes are visited throughout, the film isn't derailed by navel gazing . Jodie Foster's direction is steadfast in ensuring the story is served first and foremost. The tension is ratcheted up and just as it looks like it may run out of steam, something else is thrown into the mix.
For a movie just over 1hr 30mins, it may seem this is a lot to pack in without something falling down. It most certainly should. However, Money Monster seems to pull off the trick of keeping the narrative focused on the most relevant moments. Even when we visit the nefarious IBIS - the corporation responsible for lighting this story's touch paper - the momentum isn't lost and informs us while tightening the tension bolts further.
In the meantime, there is a carefully crafted building on the relationship of Gates and Patty. It would be easy to just focus on Gates and have him realise the error of his ways through the life-changing event. Instead it unfolds and evolves in the exchanges - and not always between Clooney and Roberts - sometimes Gates even talks to camera while he questions himself and just what he's been doing on the show all this time. Just how much has he (or we) been corrupted by the yankee dollar? How much does that cost?
4* - Ball Street - We Put Your Money to Sleep