(Disclaimer. A significant percentage of my portfolio is invested in tulip bulbs.)
Perspectives that jump on the populism bandwagon to vilify the likes of Goldman Sachs and their ilk are de rigueur in mainstream films like “Wall Street” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” but George Clooney’s thriller “Money Monster,” from director Jodie Foster, at least pays lip service to one inconvenient human trait. Fictional fund manager Walt Camby (Dominic West) waves off a $900 million capital loss with, “No one complained with they were getting 18% annual returns.” Well, yea, but…
CEOs are forced to navigate the ambiguous waters between so-called corporate responsibility and shareholders like union pension fund managers and other institutional investors who demand high and reliable returns. Sometimes they don’t exactly play fair.
Neither does Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who after losing his life savings takes hostage the flamboyant television financial advisor Lee Gates (George Clooney) whom he blames for a bad stock tip. (This is probably a good time to remind readers that my ‘honks’ are merely suggestions and not a guarantee of movie enjoyment.)
Kyle straps an explosive vest on Lee and demands Lee and Camby answer for his financial ruin. All the while, Lee’s producer (Julia Roberts) is trying to locate the evasive Camby and anyone, absolutely anyone, from the Securities and Exchange Commission who are similarly AWOL (apparently their oversight responsibility subscribes to the mantra, “If you like your nest egg, you can keep your nest egg”).
Ostensibly, it’s all the fault of a glitch in the software that controls online trading though there is a muddled subplot involving the manipulation of the South African platinum market which goes awry.
Clooney is still at the top of his game here, dancing and mugging for the camera. But unlike their past match-up (the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy), there is no chemistry between him and Roberts which doesn’t affect the storyline. O’Connell, who was Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken,” is adequate but for me, never believable. If you’re doing a variation the Stockholm Syndrome there should be more bonding.
Foster, of course, is competent both in front of and behind the camera and does a great job with a rather formulaic plot that feels too much like “Dog Day Afternoon” though, if you’re going to hijack a vibe you can do a lot worse.
A solid film but given the bodies of work of the players, it should have been outstanding.
Take a stand and a few hostages
When I think about hostage-taking on the big screen I lament the loss of the wonderful Alan Rickman whose delicious Hans Gruber held all of Nakatomi Tower hostage while Bruce Willis searched for the most opportune time to utter his infamous “Yippie Ki Yay Mother Hubbard” (I saw the bowdlerized airplane version).
Not all cinematic kidnappers are as smooth but they do have a cause. Here are my three favorites in the genre:
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) and friend Sal Naturale (John Cazale) take everyone in a Brooklyn bank hostage when a robbery to fund a sex-change for Wortzik’s lover (Chris Sarandon) goes bad. Vintage Pacino and hands-down actor Charles Durning’s best in this true story from director Sidney Lumet.
John Q. (2002)
Not Denzel Washington’s best, but it does star Denzel which puts it in the 95th percentile of all movies of all times. Here he is unable to get his son a necessary heart transplant because his employment has dropped to part-time and he can’t keep his old policy. So he holds the e.r. hostage to appeal to their humanity. Co-stars James Woods.
The Negotiator (1998)
A Chicago PD hostage negotiator (Samuel L. Jackson) flips the script when he is framed for department corruption and the only person who can diffuse the situation is a negotiator he’s never met (Kevin Spacey). An underappreciated thriller or a guilty pleasure, I haven’t yet decided which.