If Bernie Sanders is elected president, Money Monster will be the only movie allowed on Air Force One. Jodie Foster's Wall Street thriller is furious at everyone, from the corporate crooks swindling decent Americans out of their savings to the callow media chortling as the country plummets toward disaster. George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a pompadoured bobblehead who hosts a stock market show spangled with dancing girls, dollar sign necklaces, and Frankenstein GIFs. "This isn't journalism," admits his director Patty (Julia Roberts). But if it were more serious, who would watch?
The problem is, Gates's show passes for journalism — at least to rubes who don't know how else to get financial advice. And when one of them, a twentysomething, working-class schmuck named Kyle (Jack O'Connell), loses his mother's inheritance to one of Gates's bum stock tips, he shows up at the studio with a pistol and a suicide vest of explosives that he forces the host to buckle on over his expensive suit. Do the cameras keep running? Of course. And from the control booth, Patty toggles between whispering in Gates's earpiece, pleading with the cops, and ordering her cameramen to dolly in for a better shot. She may be in the blast radius, but she's still a professional, dammit.
Clooney is perfectly cast as the glib golden boy of infotainment. As soon as he's under the gun, he deflates, and every bit of his swagger — the hair, the tan, the grin, the jokes — sags around his ankles. He whines like a toddler who needs a snack. Meanwhile, it seems like a sardonic nod to sexism that actress turned director Foster sticks Roberts, a star perhaps bigger than Clooney, in the background as though no one would want to see her face in front of the cameras. (Even though she's seven years younger than the silver fox.)
With angry white men dominating the news and our election cycle, Money Monster feels so 2016 that it could be dated in a year. It gets that people who are broke feel, as Kyle does, that "the game is rigged." Some of the furious vote for Bernie or Trump, and the worst ones, long past believing that their voice or vote matters, grab guns. Though Foster understands Kyle the Symbol, she cartoonifies Kyle the Man, whom Irish actor O'Connell voices like an idiot. The last time I heard someone say, "'Dem bankers!" and "'Dose crooks!" it was the moron in an old Orphan Annie comic strip.
The irony is that Foster, too, finally loses sight of Kyle. Here he's gone to all this trouble to be heard — "I came in here knowing I'm not walking out," he says, and we believe him — and the film telling his story gets bored with the common man. Instead, Foster increasingly focuses on the jet-setting CEO (Dominic West) who may have triggered a big stock crash, and his accidental co-conspirators: his PR flack (Caitriona Balfe) and a South Korean programmer (Aaron Yoo). By the time Patty's producer (Christopher Denham) flags an Icelandic hacker (Darri Ingolfsson) for help and we get our fourth cut to a mine in South Africa, Foster's made her point: The American economy is no longer the American economy. It's a global Gordian knot that Kyle can never understand, no matter how many pounds of explosives he's carrying.
Even though we get an answer of sorts, the only clear thing is that Foster and writers Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf are mad as hell. Solutions are secondary. Mainly, Money Monster just wants to yell, especially at the media. Though Gates is shaken into doing real journalism, the film refuses to forgive his sins. His big moments have cruel twists, and his "fans" are just as callous. Here he is one button-push from death, and his TV audience ignores the stakes. He's just one more onscreen character suffering for our entertainment. Foster half-attempts to make him a hero, but a film this bleak shouldn't pull its punches. It's better when it stops aiming at every villain and centers itself on one: Gates begging his viewers, "What's my life worth?"