Money Monster review: A study in apathy

Written 5/29/16

I am overwhelmed by the idea that it is even possible to become as good a director as Jodi Foster has displayed with this piece. Every glance, every shift, every pan, every still directed us, the audience, in how to feel in each given scene. I’ve never been a Julia Roberts fan. When describing this movie, I would say that it is a Jodi Foster film starring George Clooney. After this heartrendingly real performance I apologize wholeheartedly to Roberts for my lack of appreciation.

The pacing was perfect, the focus was perfect, the script was perfect, and the performances could not have been better. I love watching experienced, mature actors handle a story like this with such care. You can tell just by watching them work that they have given their hearts and souls to their craft and have earned the comfort they feel on set.

Clooney was built for this role, or this role was built for him, one or the other. Charismatic, flawed, intelligent, layered, and terrified — not many actors could pull that off with this kind of ease. The chemistry shooting between him and the wonderful Jack O’Connel glued my eyes to the screen. Charisma in film is essential and underappreciated; without it the film is nothing, and it’s a miracle when you get it right. If Clooney and O’Connel’s connection was amazing, I don’t even know what to say about the charisma achieved when you put Clooney and Roberts together. These two should star in everything as a team. The only jokes that I actually laughed out loud at were those pulled from a history that these characters had, brought to full life by performances to be remembered. Character development aside, to achieve this kind of established base relationship in the middle of a high-voltage thriller, not a slow paced drama, not a human-connection type rom-com, but a movie where a gun gets as much screen time as any of the stars is something to be respected.

All of this base — the acting, the pacing, the dialogue — allowed for something incredible to blossom here. The trend of 2015 has spilled over into our present, filling an industry that is always searching for “more” with the “less” it so desperately needs. When something like Spotlight wins Best Picture it reminds us that not every good movie needs to be The Revenant. Don’t get me wrong, Inarritu is a genius and he will go down in history as one of the greats, but his style is not the only way. His movies force themselves into our hearts. They punch their way through our walls and bloody their own hands just to demand to be remembered. Movies like this find another way. They drift in on a breeze and nestle in the crevices of our consciousness, ready to set in for a long winter. You watch, you move on, you go on with your life, then the next day you remember a little bit, and the day after that you mull over another scene, and the next day another, until you feel like you’ve watched the film two hundred times having only seen it once. Whether they beat their way in or sneak in through the window, these films find their way into our hearts and refuse to leave, and I was pleasantly surprised by this soft persistence usually achieved by quieter films.

This is the third movie I’ve seen in the last couple of years focused on Wall Street. The first was, of course, Wolf of Wall Street, followed a couple years later by The Big Short, and now this. Arguably, Money Monster’s predecessors were more successful films, but they were also trying to accomplish something different. Both of the hard-hitting “wall street sucks” films that came before this seethed with an underbelly of molten rage. The injustice and greed made me want to stand up in the theater and walk right over to New York City and punch these people in the face. This movie filled me with a sense of emptiness and hopelessness. There was no fire lit by the injustice of the world, the fire was extinguished by the weight of our communal apathy. Money was not the enemy in this film. Money, for once, was not the monster. There were so many monsters brought to our attention through this story that I can’t even give you a succinct sentence about who the villain ended up being, the only certain thing I can say is that money is not the problem. And I’m not even going for a clever turn around here; I’m not trying to say that “guns don’t kill people, shooters do”; I’m saying that maybe our problem has been that we too easily blame money and greed when apathy came before the chicken and the egg. What came before apathy is something that I don’t have the mental energy to discuss with myself and my word program at this moment. Whatever it was, though, has caused a lot of problems.

One of those problems so perfectly showed itself through the audience sitting around me through this film. This audience exemplified the kind of numb apathy that media has both caused and is suffering from in our society. George Clooney with a bomb strapped to his chest while a good-hearted, working-class O’Connel hopelessly cries out about his plummeting existence, and I hear from behind me a “well that didn’t go as planned” followed by various snorts and a giggle. Again with not being able to quite put my finger on the problem: has this upset me because, even though what we’re watching is fictional, we’ve come to a point that each other’s suffering is cause for entertainment? Or am I upset because this beautiful art form that I’ve devoted my every waking thought to is only good for a few laughs? Either question has one common cause, and I’ve never seen a more interesting story to display the destructive power of apathy.

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