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Jodie Foster’s risks and rewards

OUT NOW! In the thriller MONEY MONSTER, Jodie Foster returns to directing and gets strong performances out of Julia Roberts and George Clooney, but the story fizzles out.

Jodie Foster’s previous directorial effort, The Beaver, was unfairly overshadowed by its leading man Mel Gibson, whose career-derailing meltdown uncannily seemed to mirror his character’s alcoholic woes. Now back in the director’s chair for the first time since 2011, Foster has cast more wisely, with not one but two heavyweight A-listers: racist-slur adverse George Clooney reteams with America’s dependable darling Julia Roberts to star in a satirical thriller hungry for fat cat blood.

The ubiquitous silver fox plays Lee Gates, a cocky financial pundit who hosts a tacky cable show, dishing out stock tips to the masses. Directed by Patty Fern (Roberts), the show takes an unexpected Dog Day Afternoon turn when an intruder (Jack O’Connell) bursts onto the set, threatening Gates with a gun and taping some Semtex to his chest on live TV. He’s lost his inheritance following an algorithmic “glitch” and he wants accountability from people, starting with Gates who championed the company stock on air.

Not as underwhelming as the title may suggest and ludicrous though parts of the narrative may be, Money Monster is distracting enough to merit your time. The performances are strong, especially from O’Connell, who manages to energetically and believably convey varying degrees of desperation. The interplay between the rising star and Clooney works and the ramped up tension, combined with well-timed moments of levity, make the first half a competently handled affair. Screenwriters Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf even manage to get their point across about infotainment (“We don’t do gotcha journalism here… We don’t do journalism period”) and how the media can enable the abuses of a corrupt system in a commendably non-preachy fashion.

Disappointingly, the tension is slowly but surely diffused when the film loosens its grip on the hostage situation by including some rushed subplots featuring South African conspiracies and shady dealings from generically smarmy Wall Street players (a predictably typecast Dominic West). This loss of focus, culminating in a bland closing scene, means that Foster’s latest never reaches the same heights as satirical media dramas such as Network or the forgotten 90s guilty pleasure that is Costa-Gavras’ Mad City (also about the complicit role some media outlets have in morphing tragedy into entertainment).

Money Monster won’t top any end-of-year lists. However, if you’re looking for 98 crowd-pleasing minutes of solid entertainment, this failed satire still boasts Jodie Foster’s knack for crafting a sturdy thriller.

Money Monster | Directed by Jodie Foster (USA, 2016) with George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell. Starts May 26.