With Clooney and Roberts up there, this thriller meshes with the current worldwide wave of rage against the financial establishment. More — it outlines an international scam to which conditions in SA are integral, more than suggesting that SA is pivotal to corruption and greed. It reflects our sordid reputation. Owners, investors and the media should see it, though it lacks the comic slickness of The Big Short.
The weakness lies in the script, too much of it set in a claustrophobic recording studio, with certain moral swerves a little too abrupt. But Clooney and Roberts are fully in control.
This pair (whose screen characters I won’t name, to avoid confusion) host and produce a ghastly TV show called Money Monster. With all the gruesome effects of a showbiz spectacle, Clooney prances around and gives financial tips to an audience of millions who, presumably, take his word, however inelegant, as their gospel of success.
Clooney has been punting shares in an outfit called Ibis Clear Capital which at the film’s inception has just managed to lose US$800m — blamed on a “technical hitch”, which it isn’t. The crafty boss of Ibis (West) ploughed electronic cash into a Johannesburg-based mining company with a striking workforce, the intention being to sell at a huge profit when the miners return to work and the share rebounds.
We see West doing his best to bribe the union leader to call off the strike. He can’t persuade him, so the swindle goes awry. Raging Ibis shareholders demand to know what’s happened to their immense losses, especially pensions. But West has gone decisively off the grid and can’t be tracked by a pressured Clooney and Roberts to appear on Money Monster to explain where and why the money went. West is actually in Jo’burg trying to buy workers.
This background is slowly revealed to Clooney, Roberts and West’s PR hack (Balfe). Meanwhile — adding realistic tension to the movie — Clooney has been abducted by a bankrupt loon (O’Connell), who bursts into the money show with a gun and bomb belt. The TV audience watches from sleazy bars as O’Connell demands answers from the missing West — his crazed presence bursting through the system that he claims exists merely to make the rich more rich, and given plausibility by his threats to kill Clooney.
The film unreels fairly logically, with police snipers closing in on the studio, apparently perfectly willing to kill Clooney (who has had the bomb belt strapped on him) to halt yet another spectacle of American violence. Their leader (Esposito) positions his troops in accordance with his own narrow-eyed rage against the machine.
I have not divulged any real spoilers, but the ethics of the immediate situation and the intricacies of an immense conspiracy are what spur the moral turnarounds. Clooney, Roberts and their terrified TV crew are the real core of the narrative. They hold it together — and the serial crimes of the Ibis boss West and his reliance on universal corruption are merely the fabric upon which the elements of tension and fear are inscribed. This loathing of public wrongdoing is never disavowed by the movie, other than in a standard disclaimer at the end that the unjust will be punished. Those caught in the bubble’s pop have scant justice.
One could say that Money Monster over-entangles its cobweb of sinister wrongdoing at the expense of entire clarity, but the film has at least four writers’ names (including Foster’s) attached to it, suggesting problems of combining the terror plot and the vaster malfeasance to which it attests.
But it is never less than gripping.
Directed by Jodie Foster; co-produced: George Clooney
George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Dominic West, Jack O’Connell, Giancarlo Esposito, Catriona Balfe