We’ve seen a lot of films similar to this: a dangerous psycho takes someone hostage but it turns out that their motivation is something the audience can relate to on a more basic level than just a psychopath going on a crazy spree. The man in question here is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), a man who lost everything when he went balls-deep in an investment on Wall Street that turned out to go into the red to the tune of $800 million. His solution: take the Jim Cramer-like host (George Clooney), who predicted the investment to be a sound one, hostage at gunpoint and strap a bomb on him until he gets answers about what really went down. What we learn at first is a computer glitch begins to unravel as the film progresses and we start to see a lot behind the seedy world of Wall Street, the media and the financial market in general.
The acting in the film is quite good. George Clooney does good work in every film he appears in and here he is very compelling as the showbiz-phony (at least at first) host of Money Matters, a show in which he dispenses financial advice with all the authenticity of an auctioneer. He doesn’t truly believe in the garbage he is peddling but is he actually maliciously trying to impact the lives of those who follow his advice and buy into the stock that he pimps? That’s a question that the film attempts to answer. After his wonderful performance in the underrated Unbroken, Jack O’Connell pulls out another effective turn here as the down-on-his-luck wannabe criminal. It’s a tough role because O’Connell must be menacing at the same time as being someone we must be able to relate to and feel some sort of empathy for otherwise he’s just a cardboard cut-out villain. Honestly, the rest of the cast is good but everyone else pales in comparison to the two leads. However, Julia Roberts holds her own as Clooney’s producer and her handle and direction on not only the show-within-the-movie but also the whole situation itself is very endearing and also speaks to her character. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Clooney and Roberts already have a built-in chemistry from previous films they’ve been in together so it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort for that dynamic to work.
The writing is strong. I liked how the film took on several aspects of the world and didn’t seem to fall in one specific view point over another. While the film does tend to fall in favour of the “little man,” there are a lot of good points to be made on either side by the script. There are many interesting moments in relation to the media and how they represent incidents like the one portrayed in the film. One that really sticks out for me is that in the middle of a tumultuous moment involving O’Connell and Clooney, we suddenly have Roberts asking if they can turn the camera over to the side because they’re catching a lot of shadow on O’Connell’s face. It’s a very funny moment but also one where you just stop and take a step back. That is a messed-up set of priorities to have in any situation like that. Another example of this is the various reactions we see from people watching the show as it progresses. We see laughter, people ignoring it and plenty of viewers that don’t even show an inch of care as Clooney begs for viewers to invest in stock to save his very life; that is in fact one of the most telling moments of the media criticism angle in general. We see all these people watching this live hostage situation but when it comes to actually getting physically involved in the situation, they don’t want to actually help. They just want to watch it unfold. It’s like when two people get in a fight in public and most people just watch rather than try to separate the two or find out what’s really going on. It’s a weird phenomenon.
I should mention Jodie Foster’s great directing too. Not only does she get solid performances out of her cast but her style is quite appropriate and entertaining as well. Right from the get-go we really get the sense that this Money Matters show is a media circus full of bells, whistles and fancy editing tricks in order to appeal to a base audience with no real knowledge of finances. This really works because of Foster’s ability to direct fast-paced action like this and she gives the whole thing a very frenetic pace. In fact, as the film becomes more tense and progresses, the editing style becomes less frenetic and calms down, which in turn gives it a more serious tone. The editing goes hand-in-hand with Foster’s great directing style and it makes for a wonderful marriage.
This film surprised me; I didn’t really know what to expect but I had a great time watching it while also getting the opportunity to appreciate the satirical nature of the film as they explored several themes that I listed above.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)