Many films have dealt with the 2008 recession.
Charles Ferguson’s 2010 documentary Inside Job won an Oscar for its investigative approach to the subject matter.
This year’s Oscar nominee, The Big Short, wrapped its deadly serious subject matter in a more jovial package, documenting the real-life work of a few clear-eyed investors who predicted the 2008 collapse.
The films all made money, but they didn’t quite hit the box office nerve that turns movies into blockbusters.
Money Monster, a film directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, is the latest installment in a movie genre trying to tackle the huge gap between the uber-rich 1 percent and everyone else.
At times emotional, at times schmaltzy, it is still perhaps the most promising star-studded production to try and reach the masses with a story about the corrupting power of money.
The film centers on Lee Gates, played by Clooney. Gates is the sleek and fast-talking anchor of a popular financial TV show called Money Monster. Gates is a man at the top of his game.
Investors follow his tips, and his hold on the stock market is golden — until that fateful day when the market tumbles and people like delivery man Kyle Budwell lose everything.
Pretending to have a delivery for the station, Budwell — played by Jack O’ Connell — sneaks onto the set with a gun and takes Gates hostage. He wraps the TV host in an explosive vest, which he threatens to detonate unless someone tells him what happened to his money.
But it’s not just his $60,000 that’s gone. There’s another $800 million unaccounted for, and Budwell wants to know where it went.
In front of a live TV audience, his demands turn the glitzy investment showcase into a real-time investigation, as Gates and his producer, Patti Fenn — played by Julia Roberts — try to discover how all that money vanished into thin air, supposedly because of an algorithm malfunction.
Fenn sits in the control room trying to follow a convoluted money trail across the planet. Gates is marooned on set, negotiating with Budwell. His only links to the world are Fenn, the camera, the monitor and his earpiece.
Veteran actor and filmmaker Foster says Fenn ends up producing Gates’ survival.
Unlike her previous, more personal and slower-paced films, Foster has created a taut thriller that starts on the set but moves outside the studio, as Budwell and Gates — still strapped with explosives — go looking for answers on Wall Street.
“I think this film is an interesting combination of being able to be an accessible mainstream ‘popcorn movie,’ but it forces you to learn at the same time about something that is quite complicated,” Foster said.
Clooney offers a good performance as the cocky TV anchor who realizes that he, too, is a victim — conned into relaying false information that played a huge part in destroying people’s lives. From that point onward, he, like Budwell, is determined to get to the truth.
Clooney feels it is a movie for the masses. “When all these things go wrong, the little guy gets screwed,” he said.
Despite some structural weaknesses, Money Monster has merit as one of the first films about the Wall Street collapse to tell the tale of a regular guy who lost everything. A guy who, along with plenty of people in the audience, is struggling with the fear, anger and bad memories of the 2008 financial collapse.