‘Money Monster’ Offers a Satirical Take on Modern Media (FILM REVIEW)

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We live in a world of personality. These days, one can become a presidential candidate not by submitting plans and policy, but through sheer force of bombast. It’d be easy to point to this as merely a political problem, but it creeps in to nearly every aspect of our lives. People are promoted and hired based on the draw of their personality; you can become a celebrity by being larger than life; Kanye West is somehow still a thing. Everywhere we go, we see people bolstered by cults of personality, catapulted to stratospheric heights in the minds of the culture simply by being bigger than everyone else.

The most unfortunate casualty in this personality worship has been the media. It used to be that our most respected and trusted journalists earned their followings through persistent dedication to uncovering the truth, facts don’t always pay the bills. Now, our biggest journalistic names are those with the larger than life personalities, creating a world where journalism becomes merely another source of entertainment. It doesn’t matter which network you prefer to get your information from—Fox, MSNBC, CNN—all of them are driven by ratings and earnings more than they are by delivering information. The biggest names earn the biggest ratings, and the biggest personalities become the biggest names.

It’s this dynamic that it’s explored in Money Monster, the latest and finest movie to be directed by Jodie Foster. Starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, Money Monster is a clever, if not overt, satire of the modern media landscape and the dangers of letting personality become the focus over actual information.

Clooney is Lee Gates, a market analyst journalist in the vein of Jim Cramer. As host of “Money Monster,” Gates makes his living screaming into the airwaves and promising viewers giant returns on their investments. During one of his broadcasts, his studio is taken over by the disgruntled Kyle (Jack O’Connell) upset that one of Gates’s recommendations turned out to be wrong, losing him and his family $60,000. Now, Lee and his producer Patty Fenn (Roberts) must attempt to unravel the truth behind what happened, leading them down a twisting path of conspiracy and fraud.

As a satire, the film works on several levels. The surface level is one of the 1% and their scheming and plotting to make the most money off the backs of the rest of the country. There’s plenty of that to be found in Money Monster, mostly in the form of Ibis CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) and his shenanigans designed to improve the worth of his stock over long periods of time. We get plenty of “the game is rigged” monologues, inciting anger and fury over how the ultra-rich game the system in their favor while putting everyone else at risk.

Here is where Money Monster is at its most overt. On this level, the films works almost as sort of a revenge fantasy for everyone who’s ever harbored intense anger at the market system and the games that are played with it. Had the movie been solely focused on this aspect, it might not have worked so well. However, Foster and screenwriters Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf use this as a jumping off point to critique modern media and journalism.

The problem with relying on personality to deliver our news is that the news becomes secondary; Gates has built his career not as a journalist but as a force of grandiloquence. His style is great for ratings and surely gins up excitement, but he never really says anything of substance. So after the collapse of Ibis, which Gates had previously described as “safer than a savings account”, he offers no answers about what caused the problem, he gives nothing of substance to his viewers who trusted him.

This is the source of Kyle’s anger. It’s not about the money, though surely that was the impetus. No, the biggest betrayal he feels is of journalism. All he wants are answers; all he gets is PR doublespeak that offers platitudes, not explanation. Now, with a bomb strapped literally to his back, Gates is forced to actually do his job, to ask the right questions of the right people to find the real answers to the problem at hand.

Journalism used to be a source of good for this country and for all the communities that comprise it. Now, media is largely just another cog in a vast wheel of fortune that moves revenue streams upwards, amassing wealth higher and higher out of reach from the common folk. Money Monster serves as a reminder that networks and news programs of today aren’t doing their jobs as fully as they could or even should. With its talented cast and director—who’s growing nicely in her role at the helm—Money Monster is a fine critical satire of the state of modern journalism as well as issues of financial inequity. It’s probably not going to win any awards, but that’s okay. It’s still a perfectly enjoyable and occasionally thrilling time at the movies.

Money Monster is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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