Friday, 16 December 2016

Movie Review: Money Monster (2016)



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I have admitted in the past being very much on the left side of the political spectrum, when I’m even bothered to get involved in such matters in the first place, and I have been rather favourable to films that align with those views. However, in my furthering subconscious attempt to bring a bit more objectivity to these reviews, I am not about to let that paint my impression of every political-tinged piece of cinema that I will look at from here on out. Pundits from all areas of political thought have this idea that we only stick to those who voice or at least mirror their own perspectives and aren’t willing to hear anyone else’s take. Well, while that might be true for some, it is still possible to disagree with those in your own supposed camp. Hopefully by the end of this review, I will have explained why that is. This is Money Monster.


The plot: Lee Gates (George Clooney), host of the financial TV show Money Monster, hopes for just another day on the job when, suddenly, disgruntled citizen Kyle (Jack O’Connell) barges onto the set and holds Lee hostage with an explosive vest. Angry at Lee for deceiving him and the rest of the viewers about the safety in investing with IBIS Clear Capital, whose stocks just plummeted and cost its investors a collective $800 million, he demands the truth from those in charge. As the hostage situation carries on, Lee and the rest of the crew, in particular his producer Patty (Julia Roberts), start to wonder themselves about what really happened… and make some shocking discoveries.

One of the consistent benefits with sociopolitically overt films like this is that, more times than not, the actors involved believe just as strongly as the filmmakers do on the subject, meaning that it will show in their performances. This would explain why the atheist strawmen in the God’s Not Dead films were the best performed in the entire film: Because that is how those actors genuinely view people like that. Thankfully, this is no exception to that. Clooney has made his mark in Hollywood through acting in films with these sorts of themes, and he channels the right amount of televised bombast and humbling confusion to make the role work. Roberts is extremely feisty and quite hostile as the show’s producer, but considering how the media is portrayed here overall, it fits in perfectly and makes the best out of the dialogue. Kyle is intense in just about every line delivery he gives, showing working man’s rage with enough gusto to make the textual loudness of his words work. Dominic West is a bit hammy as the CEO of IBIS Clear Capital, but again, it fits with the tone of the character, and his underling Diane, played by Caitriona Balfe, helps keep him grounded in their scenes together.

It’s not that often that a film comes out that this emphatically and unapologetically loud about its own point. It is both literally and figuratively about shouting at the audience to stop taking corporate BS and start asking questions when things go wrong. Now, as I’ve shown on this blog many times before by now, I am receptive to most if not all viewpoints so long as they are conveyed in a way that makes sense. Sorry, but what ultimately equates to a lecture on how much Wall Street is screwing us over is not the way to do it. As much as The Big Short was thickly-laden with business jargon, even it managed to show similar points in a more naturalistic way. Now, that’s not to say that there’s no merit to what’s being said; hell, this is another one of those issues that will probably never not be relevant and Kyle’s plight is very understandable. I’m just saying that, regardless of the content, it’s raised to a volume setting that doesn’t exactly endear itself to the audience. Yes, I’d responded favourably to quite overtonal messages in films before like Sausage Party, but that was aided by how a lot more was going on besides talking about religion through thinly-veiled proxy. Here, it starts out with Kyle ranting at the camera about socioeconomics and it keeps that level throughout the film.

This isn’t helped by how its economic viewpoints are portrayed beyond just Kyle’s ranting. There is an incessantly goofy coating over all of the events shown, from the running gag(?) about a new erectile dysfunction medication that’s just gone on the market to the pantomime-level depiction of Wall Street higher-ups to the legendary emasculations on live television that are pretty much the kind of situations that tape delays were designed for, right down to the bloody title and show-within-the-film of the same name; it’s one thing to have legitimate points told ineffectually, but quite another to make it almost impossible to take seriously at the same time.

With all that said, though, there’s something else about the title that ends up bringing something a bit more nuanced to the proceedings: How the media plays a role in all of this. I’ve made comments before about how I much I wound up learning about the real world from the media, specifically TV shows and movies. Well, even beyond the boundaries of transparent fiction, a lot of people in the West get their stances on the world from media. But with that in mind, just how much responsibility should the media take in what it tells us? On one hand, those who intend to inform us about the world should be as accurate as possible (let’s hold back on the obvious jokes about media bias for the time being). On the other, we’re not dumb nodes who only function from input; we have free will to make our own decisions based on that information, not because of it. On this issue, the writing is actually quite smooth in how it portrays both sides of this debate. This is where the scenes between Clooney and O’Connell are at their strongest, where they are essentially going back and forth concerning who is truly the one at fault in that studio. Kyle was led astray by what Lee said on the show, but his actions show it being more a matter of ego and prid than speaking for the majority whom have been burned, and his adherence to the media has shades of Dunning-Kruger in its mentality. Lee misled the public under the guise of authority, but as his show clearly indicates, he’s not exactly winning Pulitzers for financial journalism. Add to this the overall media reaction to the events, which are probably the weakest aspect of this theme with how unrealistically callous it is (the terms “mocking a man in danger of being blown up by a suicide bomber on live television” and “hefty lawsuit” tend to go hand-in-hand), and you have a film as much about economic crises as it is about how the media reacts to said crises.

All in all, it’s an okay film, although not for the reasons that it clearly wants to be. Far more adept at commenting on media reaction to financial woes than actually depicting the effect of financial woes, and even there are cracks in the foundation, but it ends up being the acting that keeps all of this working because, for better or for worse, this is a cast that is dedicated to making this story work. It’s better than Batman: The Killing Joke, as for as wonky as this gets, no single element ends up sabotaging what works about this. Or, at least, sabotages this as badly as that bloody prologue did. However, as this film isn’t exactly the best when it comes to delivering its message, it falls short of Sisters, which did a far more commendable job with its own text.

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