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Review: ‘Money Monster’ pays off big with strong performances (+trailer)

Jack O’Connell, left, plays a frustrated investor who takes a TV financial show host (George Clooney) hostage while on air in “Money Monster.”
Jack O’Connell, left, plays a frustrated investor who takes a TV financial show host (George Clooney) hostage while on air in “Money Monster.” Courtesy photo

There’s always the possibility that the audience will lose interest in a movie where the plot is deeply entangled in money matters. But Director Jodie Foster cashes in on the superb work of George Clooney and Jack O’Connell to make sure there are never any monetary dull spots in “Money Monster.”

The performances by Clooney and O’Connell are money in the bank.

Clooney plays Lee Gates, a buffoonish host of a TV finance show. When he’s not dancing his way onto the set or using wild graphics to make his point, Gates offers some investing tips. The passion he has for a stock turns into a deadly situation when the company loses $800 million in one day through what’s described as a computer glitch. Kyle Budwell (O’Connell) is one of the everyday investors who lost all his money because of the glitch.

An irate Budwell shows up at the TV show with a gun and a vest loaded with explosives for Gates to wear. He demands to talk to the owner of the company to get a legitimate answer to what happened. He’s not buying the glitch excuse.

Foster wastes no time getting the action started and keeps the tempo quick enough to build tension. She cleverly finds enough places to drop in explanations about financial matters in a way that even the most financially challenged will understand.

Unlike “The Big Short,” the film doesn’t stop while these information nuggets are dished out. It’s a fluid process handled particularly well by Caitriona Balfe (“Outlander”), who is the top spokesperson for the targeted company.

Clooney’s performance ranges from the silly to the serious. He sells each with the same passion, especially offering his absurd take on some of the cable financial news experts. It’s easy to believe that he would go from shaken to showman during the course of the event.

It helps that there’s a real connection made with O’Connell, as the gunman makes the journey from mastermind to undermined. The fact that the two work together so well is a major factor in why the movie is so strong. Their relationship has a real sense of danger, yet, at times, it feels like a sympathetic bond has been formed.

The curious performance comes from Julia Roberts as the director of the TV show. This is the latest role for the Oscar-winning actress where she plays a character with bottled up emotions.

Her character in “Secret in Their Eyes” was an emotional wreck, while her role in “Mother’s Day” was as a woman more guarded than Fort Knox. “Money Monster” has her playing a person who must stay calm while all others are falling apart, but it would be nice to see Roberts take on a role where she could just let go. She has one of the best laughs in Hollywood and it has been awhile since she showed it off.

The good performances and tight direction by Foster help cover some of the story glitches in the script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf. Too much of the plot depends on chance and happenstance much in the way “Man on a Ledge” worked.

Trying to keep the story going in a linear direction creates some predictable moments, particularly with the way the police act and react. They would have been major failings in the hands of a lesser cast.

“Money Monster” isn’t solid gold, but it is worth the investment to see the rich acting work by Clooney and O’Connell and the solid direction by Foster.

‘Money Monster’

Rated: R for language, some sexuality, violence

Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O'Connell, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito

Directed by: Jodie Foster

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