Imagine, if you will, a screenplay written by Bernie Sanders (a scathing, bleeding heart indictment of greed and income inequality in modern America), directed by Hilary Clinton (presented in the most safe, generic presentation possible), and aimed at Donald Trump supporters (with its message spelled out as blatantly and with as little subtlety or nuance as humanly possible), and you’d have a pretty decent idea of what Money Monster is like. A well-meaning, nicely acted, and competently made but ultimately overwrought and heavy-handed message film more interested in pointing out the problem rather than offering up any appreciable solutions – or at least any that make sense and are actually possible in today’s world.
The setup is as follows: George Clooney plays a financial wiz with his own talk-show – from which the title of the film derives – who gives his audience members stock advice on a financial network. On one particular taping, the show takes a sudden turn for the unexpected when an armed gunman walks in on the proceedings and hijacks the entire program, planting a live bomb on Clooney and demanding that anyone tuning in listen to his plights – and from there things only get crazier and sillier as the film goes on. Julie Roberts co-stars as the director of the program and Jack O’Connell plays the gunman, in a more lowly sympathetic fashion rather than as a mere one-dimensional lunatic. And as far as acting goes, the main trio all fare well enough. Clooney and Roberts coast on their predictably consistent charm, providing gravitas even when the film is at its most unbelievable, but it’s O’Connell who gets the meatiest role here, once again turning in a pretty solid acting turn in some B-grade Hollywood cheese undeserving of his merits.
For all of Money Monster‘s aspirations of being a claustrophobic single-location thriller, it veers off into constant sideplots with reckless frequency. While the main plot centering in the television set manages to maintain interest throughout, the film for some reason constantly cuts away from the A-plot to this series of unnecessary subplots all the way until the end, and none of them really amount to much, other than padding out the runtime to feature length. Whereas the film starts out as a mostly effective potboiler trapped in one setting, that illusion is shattered each time it cuts away literally all across the globe, seeking to build up a banal mystery plot that has the most predictable of outcomes, and not just for those who had it ruined for them in the trailer. But things really come to a screeching halt in the third act where, without giving anything away, the proceedings begin to border on being satirical as the inevitable conclusion draws near; a tonal shift which might’ve actually worked, were it not immediately undercut by a forced tragic finish to the whole shindig. An admirable attempt at weight, but it’s just not pulled off well enough to stick the landing.
Arguably the most important component to this film is the underling message and how it’s being conveyed, which Money Monster unfortunately bungles for the most part. The film seeks to tackle similar subject matter to the recent awards favorite The Big Short, but does so without the self-deprecating sense of humor or stylistic energy to elevate it above an angry Youtube rant wrapped in a thinly veiled “single location” thriller plot. It’s great that you’re on the right (in this case, meaning correct) side of a certain political issue, but what else? Simply pointing out that there’s a problem and even identifying it is a fine start, but what matters most is where do you go from there? These are questions Money Monster simply doesn’t want to answer; or more damning, isn’t even capable of answering. Audience empathy can only carry you so far (in this case, the beginning of the second act), but there needs to be more meat to the story than just a half-assed attempt at politicizing your way into the viewers’ collective hearts. And it’s even more lazily handled when every major conflict herein comes down to a third-act reveal that it’s all the product of simply one bad guy doing one bad thing, all of which seems to be solved when he eats an admittedly well-deserved knuckle sandwich in the final reel.
At the end of the day, Money Monster is a pretty harmless diversion. The cast brings a certain level of credibility to the proceedings and when the film manages to stay on topic with the main plot it can get fairly interesting. But it’s so watered down with needless side stories and explaining its message in the most forced and direct manner that it squanders a lot of the potential. Yes, it sucks that billionaires all over the country are constantly screwing over the vast majority of everyday working-class citizens because of their own selfishness and greed. Tell me something I don’t already know.