After an acting career spanning almost fifty years, and sporadic forays into directing, Jodie Foster arrives in Cannes with Money Monster and shows that she’s just as adept, intelligent and entertaining behind the camera as she is in front of it.
In the past, Foster’s directorial tastes have been towards personal and intimate accounts of individuals facing difficult situations, whether bringing up a genius child or coping with the ravages of depression. In this film, she maintains that personal level while taking on the big boys of Wall Street and beyond.
Money Monster is a US show with Lee Gates (George Clooney) as its host and Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) as his long-suffering producer. We watch the behind-the-scenes preparations for the umpteenth show and quickly get to know the characters soon to be involved in the drama to come. Gates is a maverick host who just won’t stick to the script while Fenn is ready to take on a kids show across the road, figuring seven-year-olds are easier to manage.
Once the team is established and the show is on air, we are introduced to the interloper – Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a gun-toting desperado who has lost his savings and wants an explanation: just how does $800 million disappear in an instant just because of a glitch? The man has a point, and he also has a jacket packed with explosives for Lee to don.
We, along with all the viewers watching the siege live on TV around the world, watch this humiliated man suffer further humiliations thanks to a hilarious scene when his girlfriend is called in to help negotiations. In fact, this is one of the film’s great tricks. While maintaining a level of intensity and drama, there is plenty of humour coming from all directions, whether it’s Ron the producer (Christopher Denham) trying out a new erection cream or a murmured confession from Bates.
But Foster is smart enough to know that this can’t end well, and we follow the film to its denouement anticipating an outcome that will not be for laughs.
Foster has accrued a cast alongside the three leads who offer substantial support: along with Christopher Denham, we have Giancarlo Esposito as the cop in charge of ending the siege, Dominic West as the unscrupulous money man Walt Camby, whose financial shenanigans started all this mess, and Caitriona Balfe as Diane Lester. She’s Camby’s employee and lover, yet when she realizes she’s been duped she sees an opportunity to act a lone voice of conscience on Wall Street. However, it’s Lenny Venito as Lenny the cameraman who puts in a stand-out performance as he follows the events unfolding through his unwavering lens.
More than any of Foster’s previous films as a director, Money Monster has more in common with a film she appeared in – Spike Lee’s Inside Man. Again, we are routing for the bad guys who are good, we have a hostage situation and we have a glimpse into the banking world. We see the machinations of money, as well as the corruption and power of those who keep all those financial cogs oiled.
As with so many films that show desperate men taking on corporate giants (such as Denzel Washington in John Q), the audience is immediately drawn to the little guy. And O’Connell is convincing as the all-too-human Budwell.
Together with Roberts and Clooney, who always look so comfortable together, they form a formidable trio. And Jodie Foster has put them all together, along with an excellent screenplay by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf, to create an exciting indictment of contemporary capitalism.