Remember when Julia Roberts was a Major Movie Star? Looking back, maybe fame had something to do with why regardless of whether she was playing a medical student, college professor, whistleblower or journalist, I could never quite see her as anything but – well, Julia Roberts. I haven’t seen her in a movie for years (although she has continued making them), but “Money Monster,” proves few actresses are better at going from vulnerable to spunky back to vulnerable again without any apparent effort. In the movie, her character is faced with a moral dilemma early on, one that many unappreciated, abused employees dream of – what to do when a crazed gunmen (Jack O’Connell) bursts into your workplace (here a TV studio) and threatens to kill your boss, here George Clooney, host of a financial show called “Money Monster.” George establishes in the first ten minutes that his character is a major prick, and he’s even wearing a blue dress shirt with a white collar, which is often movie shorthand for “white collar a-hole.” So Julia, who plays the show’s producer (though she’s planning a career change), hesitates a little while, but ultimately chooses to save him by kowtowing to the intruder’s demands.
It occurred to me that this movie starts the same way as “Hail Caesar!” did: with George Clooney showboating around on set, while off in the shadows, someone plots his downfall. Here, he’s taken hostage and strapped into a vest with a bomb attached because Jack has lost his entire savings following a tip from the show that turned out to be a bad idea. As the NYPD plots to retrieve George safely (though their definition of “safe” is bizarre), Jack berates George for being such a low-life. Meanwhile, Julia tries to figure out how to de-escalate the situation, which turns out that she needs to contact the head honcho of IBIS (the company whose stock plunged). This happens to be Dominic West, and if you think George is unlikeable, just wait until you find out the depths of Dominic’s duplicity. This guy is responsible for a underpaid schmuck whose girlfriend is pregnant losing his money, and his response: “Wrong? What’s wrong?” Eventually, the crisis is weathered, but not without a lot of texting, frowning, gun pointing and arguing among the secondary characters.
Watching movies where someone is taken hostage, it seems like most characters are pretty tough: you never see anyone visibly sweating through their clothes or wetting themselves from fear, presumably having a gun pointed at them isn’t that high on their list of instant panic situations. Also, the hostage character typically gets over being tongue-tied soon and has no qualms about taunting or berating the person with the weapon because that would definitely be my reaction to having my life in danger. As Denis Leary’s cat burglar puts it in “The Ref,” it’s the people with guns who are allowed to run the show – but then a movie where one character always has the upper hand would be dull.