The Critic: Money Mon­ster picks up where The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short left off

Money Mon­ster con­tin­ues where movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short left off. By David Wal­ters

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS -

Hollywood reached its max­i­mum nat­u­ral dis­as­ter po­ten­tial roughly two decades ago, send­ing down a hail of movies about megas­torms (Twister), su­per­vol­ca­noes (Dante’s Peak), and earth­bound as­ter­oids (Deep Im­pact, Ar­maged­don). Al­though the in­dus­try still ped­dles in weird weather (Shark­nado 4), studios seem to have turned their at­ten­tion to a new type of scary movie—the un­nat­u­ral dis­as­ter flick, which de­rives its shocks not from acts of God but from acts of bankers. Films in this cat­e­gory in­clude Mar­gin Call (2011), Too Big to Fail (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), The Big Short (2015), and now Money Mon­ster, which moves the nascent genre into its ado­les­cent, for­mu­laic phase.

Di­rected by two-time Os­car win­ner Jodie Foster—whose most re­cent be­hindthe-cam­era cred­its in­clude episodes of Net­flix’s House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black—Money Mon­ster (in theaters on May 13) presents a fa­mil­iar an­ti­hero in Lee Gates (Ge­orge Clooney), a bom­bas­tic Jim Cramer-es­que tele­vi­sion host. The self-pro­claimed wizard of Wall Street, he’s a mouth­piece who in­flu­ences the mar­ket with smug claims that cer­tain stocks are “safer than a sav­ings ac­count.” But when one of Gates’s sure things, Ibis Clear Cap­i­tal, bot­toms out overnight, los­ing $800 mil­lion be­cause of what’s du­bi­ously de­scribed as a “com­puter glitch,” Gates is taken hostage on-air by 24-year-old de­liv­ery­man Kyle Bud­well (Bri­tish ac­tor Jack O’Con­nell, chew­ing on a Brook­lyn ac­cent here to mixed ef­fect). Patty Fenn (Ju­lia Roberts), Gates’s long­time pro­ducer, be­comes a de facto cri­sis ne­go­tia­tor, keep­ing Gates en­gaged with Bud­well, who’s lost his life sav­ings to the bum in­vest­ment, while fever­ishly track­ing Walt Camby (Do­minic West), Ibis’s mys­te­ri­ously ab­sent chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

As the noose tight­ens on Gates and the crooked Camby, Money Mon­ster man­ages to squeeze out a bit of gal­lows hu­mor: At one point, the TV host ap­peals to his au­di­ence to buy Ibis shares in an at­tempt to re­verse the dam­age and save him (“What’s a life worth to you?” he pleads, star­ing into the cam­era). On cue, the stock price springs to life—tick­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. In one stan­dard movie gam­bit, the New York City Po­lice Depart­ment patches Bud­well’s preg­nant girl­friend through to the broad­cast to per­suade him to sur­ren­der; she in­stead re­veals that he cries dur­ing sex and should prob­a­bly do ev­ery­one a fa­vor and just kill him­self.

Like The Big Short, Money Mon­ster oc­ca­sion­ally veers deep into the weeds of fi­nan­cial jar­gon—quan­ti­ta­tive an­a­lyt­ics, dark pools, high-fre­quency trad­ing—but the film­mak­ers wisely opt to em­brace the broad au­di­ence ap­peal of a fre­netic con­spir­acy thriller, be­gin­ning un­der the hot lights of a claus­tro­pho­bic TV stu­dio, spilling onto the streets of Man­hat­tan’s Fi­nan­cial Dis­trict, and cul­mi­nat­ing in a high-stakes con­fronta­tion be­tween Bud­well and Camby. Rem­i­nis­cent of the sym­pa­thetic hostage tak­ers played by Al Pa­cino in Dog Day Af­ter­noon and Den­zel Wash­ing­ton in John Q, Bud­well lives out many a Bernie sup­porter’s re­venge fan­tasy against a rigged sys­tem. As the char­ac­ter re­minds his cap­tives, “I might be the one with the gun here, but I’m not the real crim­i­nal.”

Studios will gladly wring the fi­nan­cial cor­rup­tion sponge as they have with bib­li­cal floods and fire rain­ing from the sky, tweak­ing the de­tails as nec­es­sary. (Con­sider this sum­mer’s Eq­uity, star­ring Break­ing Bad’s Anna Gunn, which has been de­scribed as the first “fe­male-driven” film about Wall Street.) “They like how the math adds up, so they gotta keep rewrit­ing the equa­tion,” Bud­well says of the big banks’ any­thing-goes man­ner of keep­ing the odds and dol­lar signs for­ever in their fa­vor. Count Hollywood in. Greed is good, af­ter all. We learned that at the movies. <BW>

Clooney as Lee Gates in Money Mon­ster

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