"Money Monster" begins brilliantly. The opening scenes set in a
television studio seem authentic on a very detailed level. The pace is
frantic and various characters and subplots are introduced organically.
The direction is assured, acting is superb and production values are
excellent. The first act offers every assurance this will be a
compelling drama, if not an instant classic.
But then it loses momentum. The hostage/revenge plot is too boneheaded
to maintain interest for long and the underlying defalcation makes no
sense at all. An average Joe invests $60M in the stock of a company
that loses $800MM in a single day, causing its stock to lose about 85%
of its value. The guy then complains that he's lost everything he had.
Granted, he took a huge beating, but he should still have stock worth
about $10M, unless he purchased on margin, but we don't know. Then we
learn the company has a fleet of corporate jets, at least one of which
is a Lear Jet 85 with a base sticker price of $20.8MM. If the company
is large enough to have perhaps $75-150MM invested in jets, one
wouldn't expect even a $800MM loss to have such a devastating effect.
But why is this average Joe buying equity shares? Wouldn't he
ordinarily invest in some investment fund or pool managed by the
company? There is another scheme to artificially depress another
company's stock in order to earn billions on the defalcated $800MM. But
for this to work, that company would need to lose about 75% of its
market value and then rebound. The mechanics, timing and scale make no
sense at all and there is no way the villain could expect to pull it
off without getting caught. He would have done better trying to smuggle
cocaine on his Lear. But DeLorean already tried something like that and
it didn't turn out well.
But maybe it doesn't need to make sense. After all the recent financial
scandals, the burst of the housing bubble, Greece, Brexit, the
precarious state of pension funds and the imminent bankruptcy of the
Social Security trust fund, perhaps movie audiences don't need much
evidence to assume some slick financial type is a villain.
At one point, Clooney's Gates character tells the villain that his
scheme isn't complicated. That's the problem. The plot needs a
brilliant scheme that requires Gates's unique skills and efforts to
unravel. Instead, it is a rather obvious plot that Roberts's Fenn
unravels behind the scenes with the assistance of a character turned
whistle-blower for reasons that aren't explored sufficiently to make
them credible, with the assistance of a group of hackers who are able
to find an obscure bit of evidence on a surveillance camera that would
be zoomed in at nothing but an empty patch of ground if a couple of
people hadn't decided to frame themselves perfectly while one of them
The police involvement seems authentic initially, but stretches
credibility during a bizarre sort of chase scene and culminates in an
inexplicable act of violence against an individual who has gained
widespread sympathy while recorded on live television.
The story would have been stronger if the average Joe had invested
money that he had earned and saved, rather than life insurance proceeds
perhaps an accumulated pension from working at a company for a long
time and then being laid off due to economic circumstances.
The taste of death moment seems contrived.
Gates lacks a character arc. He recommended an investment that turned
sour in part because an executive at the company proved to be
disreputable and in part because nobody seems to know what the company
actually does, other than deliver impressive profits. It turns out that
the company doesn't know what they do either, as their much- touted
trading algorithm was actually developed by a Korean programmer. In the
final scene, Gates asks Fenn what they will do for the next program and
neither one knows. His question may have been intended as humorous, as
in how to top the drama of that day's events, but also reveals that he
hasn't learned anything. He made a poor choice that cost the investors
who relied upon his advice a lot of money. Tomorrow, he needs to make
another recommendation, but he hasn't learned anything to guide him.
Despite various implications that the system is rigged against the
little guy, everything Gates has learned only applies to this one
company. He was fooled and the public was defrauded. But nothing has
happened to provide the public with better protection or to enable
Gates to make better choices.