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It’s not as savvy and sophisticated as The Big Short, but Money Monster’s a good Wall Street/big media thriller that offers some nifty twists and turns.

Mad, Mad Money

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a Money Monster
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a Money Monster

Going into Money Monster, there were a few questions weighing down the anticipation. What’s this movie’s agenda? Is it a railing against the 1%? Can it sustain its premise — that of a guy hijacking a cable financial “news” program?

Well, in short, the answers are “Equal opportunity,” “No” and “Yes.”

The show in question is the titular Money Monster. Think of Jim Cramer and Mad Money and you’re almost there. Lee Gates (George Clooney, Ocean’s Eleven) is the new Jim. He’s an arrogant ass who trumpets or berates stocks with silly onscreen shenanigans and costumes. The intent is to make boring stock talk entertaining, of course, but the result is inevitability an assault on and an insult to the mind. It’s not really journalism, it’s not really even infotainment.

Lee’s life gets difficult — or, rather, even more difficult considering his multiple ex-wives and tattered relationship with the show’s director — after IBIS, a stock he’s heralded time and again, takes a massive dive and loses $800 million in a matter of hours.

Enter Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken). He’s a poor shlub who dumped his entire family inheritance, $60,000, into IBIS stock and now it’s all gone. What once traded at $75/share now sits at $8.47/share and sinking.

Kyle’s had enough and it’s time to fight the system.

Money Makes the World Go Around

The opening line is a voiceover from Lee: “Are you paying attention?” It’s like “Are you watching closely?” in The Prestige, another movie about a disappearing act, albeit it’s not money that disappears in the Christopher Nolan flick.

The disappearance of that $800 million is blamed on an algorithm anomaly, a black swan event written off as a glitch.

Well, the reality is there’s more to it than that. As the old saying goes, “Follow the money.”

In the case of Money Monster, it’s not so much the resolution of the stock crisis that’s surprising or even particularly interesting. It’s the ride to the resolution that provides the entertainment and food for thought by way of some surprising character turns.

People Have the Power

Money Monster works as well as it does because Jack O’Connell sells it as Kyle, the overburdened everyman. At once pathetic and sympathetic, it’s critical for Kyle to resonate with audiences in order for the rest of the movie to work. His character takes one of those turns when his pregnant girlfriend is brought in to help console him.

Nothing more will be said about that here, other than it’s good stuff.

Director Jodie Foster (The Beaver) works a nice mix of social commentary and black comedy while also exploring the global interconnectedness of financial markets, technology and people. And she gets strong performances throughout the cast. O’Connell is top notch; Clooney is suitably loose at first, then turns tense as the situation devolves; and Julia Roberts (Duplicity) is in fine form as the conflicted director.

People are nuts, no doubt about it. And they’re right there, flocking around a bomb scene from which police have advised people to stay away. It’s the people railing against the system, a smidgeon of the unrest that’s fueled the Trump and Sanders campaigns, and all reason apparently has to go out the window in the process. The trick is to not become a monster in order to defeat the monster — and that includes money monsters on TV, on social media, and in the corner office.

“Transparency” is a popular buzz word these days in business and politics, but as it too often turns out, that’s all it is: A buzz word with no real meaning anymore. And, as long as business and society are co-dependent, the challenge will be to keep all parties honest. The stockholders’ hands aren’t completely clean in the IBIS stock run-up any more than the CEO’s hands are clean in its rundown.