The legend says that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. One has to wonder if Nero was around now if he’d stand by and Snapchat while the stock market crashed.
MONEY MONSTER brings us on to the set of the TV show of the same name. The show is a “Mad Money”-esque program on the Financial News Network, with a sly, smirky, sometimes slimey host at its centre in the way of Lee Gates (George Clooney). As we arrive, a major stock has suffered a major dive just days before losing its investors over $800M – a shortfall that is being chalked-up to “a glitch”.
This “glitch” sends a New York deliveryman named Kyle (Jack O’Connell) on to the set of Money Monster armed with a pistol and a bomb. Strapping the bomb to Gates, he threatens the life of the host – and everyone else in the blast range – if he doesn’t get some answers. Kyle lost sixty thousand dollars when the stock took a dive, and he believes someone like Gates owes him answers.
If Gates can’t provide the answers, surely he has access to those who can.
With the police circling the building, and Gates’ producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) trying to keep the crisis away from its boiling point, all eyes start turning towards the CEO of the failed stock (Dominic West). Despite the best efforts of his chief communications officer (Caitriona Balfe), the suit is conspicuously absent.
With questions about the stock’s shortage mounting, and Gates’ life hanging in the balance, the cameras continue to roll…turning a hostage crisis into must-see TV around the world.
It’s a little strange to thunk of megawatt stars like Julia Roberts and George Clooney as our moral centre. They are supposed to be beaming from magazine covers and hiding from prying paparazzi on islands that most of us can’t find on a map. And yet, as both of these actors enter their third decade of celebrity, we do find ourselves looking to them for guidance.
We wish we had a mature and steadying voice like Roberts’ in our ear during a crisis. We want an earnest and warm presence like Clooney to look at us from our TV screen and tell us what to do.
They aren’t superstars anymore; they’re something else entirely. Idealized versions of our community leaders, perhaps. To that end, we feel a sense of mild relief seeing them steer a crisis like MONEY MONSTER into port. Maybe if they were at the tiller, more fires would be extinguished in our real world.
The knock against MONEY MONSTER is that its beats will feel familiar if you’ve ever seen a critique of modern media. They will likewise feel familiar if you’ve ever seen a hostage film. It’s not going to be elevated into the pantheon of either category, but it does execute the story beats of both quite nicely.
What it loses in originality, it makes up for with capability.
What’s more, it gains on both in the way that it takes a big red marker and circles a point of corruption for us to consider. We have moved far past the point where most of the people on TV giving us the facts were well-educated and informed. Nowadays it is much more about who is entertaining, amusing, charismatic, or camera-friendly. If these people are telling us about traffic jams, that’s fine…but if they are telling us what to do with our hard-earned, that’s probably not a good thing.
Lee Gates is not a stand-in for any one man, but instead a cautionary tale of many. He readily admits that his show is not about asking questions or seeking the truth. Yet it shows of its ilk should be, and many believe that they do. Seeing Gates shrug when confronted by an average joe that was ripped off comes with a sickeningly familiar pang. When faced with the news of a $60,000 loss, he sneers and offers to return it lickity-split.
Ask yourself; should a person who doesn’t comprehend the gravity of such a financial loss to a member of the middle class be giving you advice on what to do next?
If nothing else, MONEY MONSTER deserves points for once again asking how it is we continue to idly stand back and watch. Forty years ago, NETWORK dared to ask a similar question, and if anything it seems as though things have got worse since we weren’t going to take it anymore. Not so much at the top – things at the top of our society have always been rotten and will always be rotten. It’s down here amongst the unwashed that the film has its eye on.
It’s us who are most affected by the corrupt, by the greedy. We should be storming the gates when things like this happen…we should be taking the power back. Instead, all we seem capable of doing is silently watching…and retweeting snidely amongst ourselves.
Maybe we deserve what we get.