Film Review | Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

motherless brooklyn film review edward norton gugu mbatha raw alec baldwin willem dafoe

As Lionel Essrog, Norton offers a characteristically precise performance – every tic and spasm of the 1950s gumshoe’s Tourette’s syndrome meticulously recreated, in many ways the pinnacle of the careful affect Norton is known for as an actor. But to focus on the precision of the performance obscures its sensitivity. What might at first be written off as an ostentatious display of overly attentive histrionics, justified only by itself to itself, belies something much more tentative and tender. There’s a lightness to Norton’s work here, something gentle not lost in his formal dedication to the psychical neuroses; Lionel is rendered with vulnerability and treated in turn with empathy. There’s a depth beyond the superficially impressive imitation of the rhythms of Tourette’s – a crumpled, weary interiority suggestive of a man always slightly out of step with his surroundings.

Another new review from me! Something I was conscious of particularly with this one was how I wrote about acting, specifically; actually engaging with the details of performances is something I find difficult to articulate, so I’m trying to work on that a little harder. Fairly pleased with what I wrote in the end, actually, so that’s nice!

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Film Review | The Two Popes (2019)

the two popes jonathan pryce anthony hopkins benedict francis netflix review anthony mccarten fernando meirelles

In its weakest moments, The Two Popes treats Benedict as an aberration, an interruption that needed to be corrected by Francis – at times, the affection felt towards the current Bishop of Rome risks tending towards the hagiographic.

And yet The Two Popes clearly aspires to a more complicated narrative. Central to this story are the sexual abuse cases that came to light towards the end of Benedict’s papacy. It’s a fraught subject, and The Two Popes is necessarily precise in approach – the careful levity of McCarten’s script is easy to appreciate, conscious in how it threads the needle between this and its otherwise gentle humour, never quite polemic or farce.

I am really, really pleased with this review. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to bring myself to write something properly, for a myriad of boring reasons, but here I really managed to break that writer’s block. Lots of half-completed drafts cluttering up my desktop at the moment, but this, thankfully, is not one of them.

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Film Review | The Nightingale (2019)

the nightingale aisling francoisi sam claflin jennifer kent review alex moreland

Kent lingers on the violence, lingers on assault, lingers on the casual, visceral nature of this world; the camera holds its gaze far longer than one can bear, deliberately unsettling audiences and challenging them not to look away. Indeed, The Nightingale is designed for the cinema experience – being able to look away from the laptop screen and check Twitter defeats the point of Kent’s unrelenting direction, however necessary it might sometimes feel.

Here’s my review of The Nightingale, accompanying my recent interview with its two lead actors.

It’s an interesting film, The Nightingale – as I remark in the review, it’s a movie that’s far easier to respect than to like. There’s a lot about it that’s hugely, hugely impressive: not just Jennifer Kent’s direction, but also the performances of Aisling Francoisi and Sam Claflin. (And indeed of Baykali Ganambarr – I’m a little annoyed with myself I didn’t find the space to mention to his performance in the review itself, it’s quite a notable omission.)

I wasn’t especially fond of it when I first watched it; my appreciation of it has grown since then, though, the more I’ve thought about it. It’s definitely a film that benefits from deeper thought and consideration – certainly, had I reviewed it closer to when I watched the film, I’d have likely written about it more critically than I ultimately did. Admittedly I’m not super pleased with the review itself: I think perhaps I could’ve done a stronger piece of writing about the film than I actually did, particularly in the second half of the review.

Still, though. Pretty pleased with that segment I quoted above. Good set of sentences, that.

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Film Review | Brexit: The Uncivil War (2019)

brexit uncivil war benedict cumberbatch dominic cummings james graham toby haynes channel 4 hbo vote leave take back control film review

Everyone knows who won. But not everyone knows how.

Perhaps somewhat ironically, Brexit: The Uncivil War is a film caught between two contrary instincts, unable to quite work out what it wants to be or what it wants to do.

On one level, Brexit is trying to be a character study, an attempt to shine a light on Dominic Cummings – a man most of the film’s audience is unlikely to be aware of. At the same time, though, the film also wants to be a process story ahead of anything else, delving into the idiosyncrasies of a political campaign of near unprecedented significance. It wouldn’t be impossible to be both, of course, but ultimately Brexit is neither – there’s a certain tension borne of this, as the film struggles to find an identity, leaving a rapidly forming sense that none of the major figures involved were quite on the same page throughout.

Screenwriter James Graham, clearly, is most interested in Dominic Cummings – not a huge surprise, given Cummings is apparently the sort of brash genius that so often fascinates writers. Whether Cummings genuinely falls prey to every cliché-ridden convention of the brusque political operative, speaking only in self-consciously lofty references and aphorisms is another question: it’s difficult to tell whether this an accurate account of Cummings’ real-life eccentricities or an artifice on Graham’s part. If the latter, it’s worthy of quite the eye-roll; if the former, then it’s easier to understand why Graham was quite so fascinated by Cummings, but does rather leave the impression that Graham bought into Cummings’ own hype, which is… another problem, to say the least.

That said, though, Graham isn’t helped by Cumberbatch’s visible lack of interest in Cummings. If 2018 held the best performance of Cumberbatch’s career in Patrick Melrose, then Brexit: The Uncivil War is unfortunately a sure example of one of his weakest. In Patrick Melrose, Cumberbatch carved out a space within his established milieu of isolated eccentrics, injecting it with a bracing vulnerability that elevated the performance far above the rest of his filmography. In Brexit: The Uncivil War, Cumberbatch does almost entirely the opposite – he’s sleepwalking through the film, coasting on a reputation for playing irreverent geniuses earned on Sherlock. (There’s reasonable critique to make, on that grounds, that Cumberbatch brings too much baggage to the role – simply by putting him on screen in this role, there’s an implicit suggestion that Cummings is a Sherlock-esque figure.) Cummings, here, is a caricature of ‘a Benedict Cumberbatch role’ – so of course the character study fails. It doesn’t matter what Graham was trying to achieve if Cumberbatch doesn’t show up.

Absent its star, Brexit renders Cummings a cipher around which the Leave campaign as a whole can be – not ‘interrogated’, that suggests a far robust and uncompromising look at events than the film offered – viewed. In that sense, Brexit does reasonably well, finding flair in the mundanities of the campaign trail from focus groups to slogans. It isn’t quite as good as, say, the average episode of The West Wing, but it works – an extended look at the subtleties that set “take control” apart from “take back control” makes for one of the film’s better sequences, for example. Similarly effective is Brexit: The Uncivil War’s look at how the Leave campaign relied on developing social media targeting – which is to say, it works, but it’s nowhere near as good an articulation of the concept as when it formed the fourth act plot twist of an episode of The Good Fight.

brexit uncivil war benedict cumberbatch dominic cummings boris johnson richard goulding michael gove oliver maltman nhs bus 350 million take back control james graham toby haynes channel 4 hbo

Again, though, it doesn’t quite land – a result, most likely, of the fact that the process story was never meant to be the main focus of the script, merely inadvertently accentuated by the vagaries of Cumberbatch’s performance. In turn, it leaves Brexit: The Uncivil War as a drama divided, a film at war with itself – it’s no surprise that film doesn’t have the impact it could’ve. (Director Toby Haynes, who might have been able to stitch the two instincts together, instead offers a third – the equivalent of “well, let’s just be a bit like Norway”. Haynes tries to emphasise the absurdity of it all, presumably angling to satirise right-wing pomposity – but instead directs with a certain baroque pretension, another element that fails to cohere.)

In the end, this adaptation prompts much the same question as the real-life source material: why bother?

Not even three years on from the vote, accusations that Brexit: The Uncivil War has come too soon hold an obvious weight. 2019 is too early for Brexit to have been historicised; indeed, it’s still a palpable part of the present, if the events of this week are any indicator. In the time between Brexit’s Channel 4 debut and this review being written, Theresa May’s prospective deal suffered an unprecedented defeat in parliament; what will happen in the time between writing and publishing the review remains to be seen, let alone in the time between publishing the review and Brexit’s nominal 29th March scheduling.

That isn’t to say, though, that Brexit shouldn’t have bothered because they don’t know how it’ll end. Rather, while the broader ramifications of the event are still ongoing – and while the campaign at the heart of the film is still subject to ongoing criminal investigation – there’s argument to be made that a fictionalised narrative is irresponsible filmmaking. By virtue of being the first major attempt to tackle Brexit on film, Brexit: The Uncivil War is also going to be – for a time, at least – the definitive account of that campaign. What James Graham and company emphasise – and, more crucially, what they omit – is going to have a greater hand in shaping public understanding of the Brexit campaign than any news report or documentary. Looking beyond their depiction of Cummings, there’s little sense that there was any awareness of this responsibility behind the scenes. Arron Banks and Nigel Farage are blustering and foolish, not insidious and dangerous; Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are trepidant and cautious, not self-serving and morally negligent; the Leave campaign’s illegal overspending is little more than a footnote. Maybe waiting a few more years would’ve stopped them getting it wrong, maybe it wouldn’t, but the mistakes would likely have mattered a little bit less.

Ultimately, if Brexit: The Uncivil War was meant to hold a mirror up to society, it is instead a far better reflection of James Graham’s interest – and Benedict Cumberbatch’s apparent disinterest – in one man, rather than offering any meaningful commentary on the state of a nation.

5/10

Related:

Who is America? Who cares?

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Film Review | Agatha Christie’s Crooked House (2017)

agatha christie crooked house glenn close gillian anderson amanda abbington terrence stamp max irons review

What’s notable about Crooked House amongst Christie’s oeuvre, however, is that the story has never been adapted for the screen – until now. This means that all the hallmarks and idiosyncrasies that define Christie’s work, the ones that we’ve become so familiar with, here feel slightly different. The stately home, the eccentric family, the mystery and intrigue – it all feels slightly subverted here, in fresh and unexpected ways. Indeed, the way the case unfolds is difficult to anticipate, keeping the audience in suspense to the last possible moment.

Here is a film review. A film review written by me, no less! Admittedly that’s probably exactly what you’ve come to expect on this here website of mine, but hey, sometimes it’s good to be specific.

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Film Review | Easy Living (2017)

Easy Living 2017 caroline dhavernas adam keleman review film movie

It’s the story of Sherry, a door-to-door makeup saleswoman, and the lack of control she has over her life. Sherry is a self-destructive character, one spiraling from extreme to extreme; it’s made immediately clear that she occupies a liminal space within her own life, at a remove from those around her. Caroline Dhavernas gives a note-perfect performance throughout; she embodies the messy, fractured character, managing to strike the exact balance between off-putting and engaging. A lot about the character is left implicit, and this is carried through Dhavernas’ work; it’s perhaps inaccurate to say Sherry has any real interiority, but that’s likely an inevitable consequence of this non-traditional character study.

My review of Easy Living for Flickering Myth. It’s an interesting film; one that’s difficult to like, but easy to appreciate.

I haven’t gone back and re-read this review, but I suspect there’s more than a little element of “I got to see this film for free, and I’m interviewing the lead actress in an hour so there’s a solid chance that the writers and directors and so on will see this review, so I should probably be polite and look for the positives” going on – certainly that’s how I remember feeling while writing it. It does end with a rape scene, which I suspect I didn’t critique enough, which I do regret. So, bear that in mind if you’re going to go and watch it.

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Film Review | Anomalisa (2015)

anomalisa film review charlie kaufman duke johnson tom noonan david thewlis jennifer jason leigh

I think you’re extraordinary. I don’t know why yet. It’s just obvious to me that you are.

This is something of a difficult movie to review, I think; in some senses, it’s a difficult one to watch. And I don’t (just) mean how awkward it feels to see stopmotion sex.

Charlie Kaufman has something of a reputation of being, to put it bluntly, a genius. This is the first film of his that I’ve ever watched, so my expectations were high; particularly so, given that the praise for this movie was just through the roof. I mean, take a look at the soundbites on the film’s poster – it isn’t just “perfect”, it’s “a rare sliver of transcendence”. It’s a “rare and haunting marvel” that, apparently, changed someone’s life. So, you know, that’s an astonishingly high bar to set.

Particularly I was drawn to the line that says “the most human film of the year”; not least because that was the only tagline I was aware of before I saw the movie, but there’s something about that which is just so… enticing, to me. I’m quite interested in drama (obviously) and I want to get into writing myself someday, so there’s something about “the most human film of the year” which sounds to me to be a ridiculously high piece of praise to level at something.

Watching the film, though? Hmm. I’m struggling to properly put a pin in what I actually thought of it.

It did feel quite real, right from the off, beginning with the banalities of plane rides and hotels. (It’s possible this resonated with me moreso because I was watching the movie on a plane, having recently left a hotel.) I think in some ways this sequence was made more effective because it was done in stopmotion; it’s the juxtaposition between the very “true” feeling dialogue and the obvious-yet-uncanny-valley-esque puppets that really highlights the more human side of this movie, I think. It draws it into much sharper focus, and I think the film benefits from this throughout; Anomalisa is tied quite closely to its stopmotion format, really availing of the medium in such a way that it wouldn’t work otherwise.

The stopmotion, incidentally, is fantastic. I have some experience with that medium myself, having made a few shorts over the years – but we’re talking weeks’ worth of work, to produce fairly simplistic videos of a minute and a half tops. Anomalisa is so advanced as to be nearly incomparable to what I did, though, and it’s frankly a work of art in itself. A stunning accomplishment, really, which would have taken a hell of a lot of effort; it paid off, in any case, because Anomalisa came out looking absolutely gorgeous.

I just don’t know that Anomalisa was actually as smart as it thought it was, or as smart as it wanted to be.

Anomalisa is about loneliness, to some extent; David Thewlis’ character, Matthew Stone, clearly feels quite isolated and spends the runtime of the movie desperately searching for some meaningful human connection. When he does find it, it’s so fleeting as to barely last at all. In a lot of ways, the depiction of loneliness here is quite well done – the dialogue is fantastic, the feeling permeates the movie, and there’s an aspect of it that seems quite true throughout. Stone repeats with Lisa what he did with the other woman; the irony is that she isn’t an “anomaly Lisa”, she’s just the latest in a long string of women he does that with. He’s sad and lonely and a little pathetic, and he can’t connect with people, because he gets so caught up with the romantic ideals and doesn’t consider the person behind the idealised fiction version. It’s a well-presented story, and in many regards it’s quite clever.

It’s not that clever, though. Because Anomalisa doesn’t really say anything about loneliness, and I don’t feel it presents anything particularly new or all that interesting. The high concept, essentially, is “let’s tell a story about a lonely middle-aged man who has an affair… except it’s stop motion!” and then that’s just sort of the extent of it. There’s a rather out of place, yet wholly predictable, dream sequence; it adds little, feeling largely superfluous, and you can sort of guess what’s going to happen in it from the first time you see the stop motion models. Towards the end of the movie, we’ve even got Stone saying “sometimes there is no meaning, and at times that’s a meaning in and of itself”; this feels rather like a cop-out, to be honest, as if the movie itself is rejecting the idea it needs to have some level of substance. It’s taken the simplest representation of loneliness you can have, and presented it in an interesting way – that’s not enough to make the heart of the movie feel anything other than quite superficial.

I’m quite frustrated, really, that I feel this way. Primarily because I actually did, generally speaking, enjoy most of it; it was reasonably clever, and entertaining enough, despite feeling terribly lacking in a few key areas. More than that, though, I want to understand why everyone else loves it so much, and what they took away from it that I didn’t. While I’m not exactly disinclined to go against the critical consensus, I do feel like “yeah it’s just not that great” isn’t really a strong enough argument in the face of such significant praise. There was a distinct feeling that I’d missed something about the movie; I did some more reading, and I did pick up on some more nuanced ambiguities before. The Japanese sex doll, for example, wasn’t quite as gratuitous as I thought and did open up some questions as to whether or not Stone’s night with Lisa was hallucinatory; I was also able to clarify a few points regarding the voice work and the impact of it.

Ultimately, though, none of what I’ve read actually made me feel any the wiser. Anomalisa feels like a movie that needs a rewatch to fully appreciate it, but there was little about it that made me think it deserved an immediate rewatch; I suspect I’d only be watching it to keep searching for some deeper meaning that I’m just not going to find. If you’ve got any clever comments on it, or you can link me to a great essay about the movie, I would love to hear from you; I get the sense that I’m going to be trying to make Anomalisa into something it’s not for quite some time.

I’m going to eschew a rating for this movie, in part because I still don’t feel that I “get” it, but also… well, sometimes there is no rating, and at times that’s a rating in and of itself.

(See? Such a cop-out.)

Note from Alex of 2018: I’m inclined to tell you to disregard most of the above, though I’ve not actually rewatched Anomalisa since writing this. It’s going to be near the top of my list, though, because I still think I’ve missed something.

Related:

I’ll add this bit in later.

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Film Review | Inequality for All (2013)

inequality for all robert reich jason kornbluth documentary film review clinton sanders trump economy left wing

We make the rules of the economy – and we have the power to change those rules.

This is a documentary by Robert Reich – more on whom later – about inequality in the United States. Having lived in London for my entire life, that was a little bit outside my general knowledge base, but I can’t say that particularly mattered. One of the best things about this documentary was how accessible it was; I was watching it as part of an Economics class, so obviously that helped, but I do think that this particular documentary is likely to be quite easy to get into even without a background in those sorts of details. It’s a very coherent, very cogent piece – it’s structured around Reich, who’s now a professor of economics, giving explanations of different concepts, and then cutting away to first hand footage and testimonials that are relevant to the idea and further expound upon it. There’s also segments from lectures that Reich gives at the University of California, which are in and of themselves quite informative, as well as being quite well presented – a particularly notable segment breaking down the economics of an iPhone comes to mind.

Inequality for All takes quite a left-wing perspective – understandable, I imagine, given that Reich is a former democrat, and in recent years a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders. In terms of the general message, the stance is quite clear; Reich feels that inequality is one of the biggest problems facing the US today, and has been trying to deal with it for nearly 30 years now. Some of the facts are quite galling, actually – the US is close to being the most wealth unequal country in the world, for example, with the poorest 47% of Americans having no wealth at all. (You can read more on the film’s website, if you’re interested.) He makes a strong and quite well substantiated case that the concept of “trickle-down economics”, with a focus on the super-rich rather than the working and middle classes, is fundamentally flawed; an interview with one such super-rich individual highlights the fact that, since he mostly saves money and actually spends little, that’s essentially a withdrawal of money from the economy. It’s far better, in a broader sense, to have a flourishing working and middle class, given that they will spend money and thus help the economy to grow.

Having said that, I don’t think that this movie does particularly lambast or deal an unfair hand to more right wing economic views. It’s very clear than Reich disagrees with them, as does the director; an IMDb review cites him as saying “there always doesn’t have to be two sides to a story”, essentially taking the stance that all the facts within the movie are presented accurately, and that’s enough in and of itself. Equally, though, the movie takes time to deal with those it criticises (the aforementioned super-rich), as well as presenting the story of some Republican voters who have been hurt by those right wing economic policies – individuals who remain Republic voters, that is. While I imagine they wouldn’t agree with Reich’s ideology, there’s no sense that they’ve been treated unfairly, or that they’re being criticised. Indeed, you see something of a debate between they and he, with footage of a talk Reich gave in their community.

To an extent, it also doubles as a profile on Robert Reich, who’s a very interesting person himself. As Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labour, he’s been involved in politics at a pretty high level for quite a long time; even before that, though, he’d began working for the government during the Carter administration. We get a lot of insight into what drives Reich as a person, and why he does dedicate his life to trying to “fight the bullies, to protect the powerless, to make sure that the people without a voice have a voice”. He presents himself quite well – certainly he looks to be a very good lecturer and teacher – and it’s also abundantly clear he’s got a brilliant sense of humour. Reich is under five foot tall, and there’s plenty of jokes surrounding that; there’s a clip from his inaugural speech when appointed Secretary of Labour, for example, where he opens the speech with something along the lines of “All modesty aside, somehow I always knew I’d be on Bill Clinton’s short list for Secretary of Labour”. He also presented an economics based television programme with a tall Republican friend of his called “The Long and Short of it”. I found it quite funny, in any case, but I’m easily amused.

Ultimately, Inequality for All is one of the most informative, and indeed most engaging, documentaries that I’ve watched in a long time. True, I’m drawing from a limited sample size there, but this is undoubtedly a very good piece of media; I think if you live in America, or you’re interested in politics & economics, this should be required viewing.

9/10

Related:

Film Review: Money Monster (2016)

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Film Review | Everything is Copy (2015)

everything is copy nora ephron scripted and unscripted jacob bernstein documentary review hbo tom hanks meg ryan nora ephron

Most of us live our lives devoid of cinematic moments.

Something of a departure from the norm for me here, given that this is a documentary, rather than a piece of fiction. (I say that, of course, but I’m working on reviews of another documentary and a biography at the minute, so perhaps this is just the new norm.)

This movie caught my attention not because I knew who Nora Ephron was – though I soon realised that I was actually reasonably familiar with her work – but rather because the documentary was one about a journalist and screenwriter. With the former ostensibly being my current “job”, and the latter my destined dream job, it seemed like this was a documentary that would be, at the very least, quite interesting to me.

Given that little preamble, I suppose I should point out now that you’re not necessarily going to be getting advice on how to become a writer, but rather a lot of insight into the life of this particular writer, and how she approached her work. The title, Everything is Copy, refers to the mantra of Ephron’s mother, who was a writer herself; it also comes to reflect, however, the manner in which much of Ephron’s best work was that which was personal to her. Indeed, the whole documentary is quite an intimate and personal affair, with close friends and family members musing on Ephron’s life and their relationship with her, following her death from leukaemia in 2012. That the movie is directed and presented by her son, Jacob Bernstein, only adds to the intimacy with which her life was viewed.

It becomes quite clear that Nora Ephron had quite an interesting life rather early on in the movie, as it tracks her career across its different stages, from her first job at the New York Post (which she got after writing a satirical piece criticising the paper which impressed the editor) to her final theatre play, which starred Tom Hanks as a journalist himself. In a way, it’s quite circular; perhaps another manner in which everything is copy. Between these two events, though, Ephron had a long and distinguished career, with a host of articles, books, and movies to her name – including one of my favourite romcoms, You’ve Got Mail. (It’s really great.)

A series of different guests, with actors such as Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Meg Ryan, to other collaborators such as Mike Nicholls, alongside Ephron’s sisters Delia, Amy, and Hallie, really help to flesh out the picture of Ephron that we get. It’s very clear how much of an impact she had on their lives; they were all clearly quite upset, in the way that one is when you’ve lost someone special.

What also became very clear, though, was how talented Ephron was as a writer. Across the film there are a series of excerpts from Ephron’s writing across the years, with Meg Ryan, Lena Dunham, and Reese Witherspoon all providing readings, and even Ephron herself in archive footage; it’s immediately evident how incisive and insightful Ephron could be, with a very strong voice, as well as being quite funny generally.

Ultimately, Everything is Copy is quite an engaging documentary, and I’d really recommend giving it a look if you’re interested in writing, or indeed the life of Nora Ephron. It’s a respectful yet fair historiography, which shines a light on the trials and tribulations of a genuinely fascinating – and genuinely talented – woman.

7/10

Related:

Film Review: Inequality is for All (2013)

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Film Review | Money Monster (2016)

money monster film review lee gates george clooney patty fern julia roberts jack o'connell jodie foster 2016 thriller poster hd dominic west

So what the hell kind of show are we going to do next week?

I happened to watch this movie on the plane recently – it’s not, to be honest, something I would have necessarily sought out myself had I not been on the plane. Equally, though, it had an interesting premise, a nice runtime (99 minutes), and also George Clooney, who I’m quite fond of. So it’s not like it had nothing going for it.

The movie is about a hostage scenario that unfolds during a television broadcast; the poster for the movie, pictured above, doesn’t really represent this very well. George Clooney is playing Lee Gates, a television presenter who’s pitched somewhere between Craig Ferguson and Dr. Phil – he’s the frontman for a program that’s about stocks and investment, and gives advice on what to buy, what to sell, so on and so forth. Money Monster, also the name of Gates’ television show, picks up the day after a company experiences particularly bad stock crash – a company that Gates had recently quite publically endorsed, telling everyone they should invest in it. A particularly angry viewer, Kyle (Jack O’Connell) sneaks onto the set with a gun, and then the hostage situation begins. The television producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), has to co-ordinate the situation to keep Gates alive, which is the source of much of our tension.

That’s the basic premise, although the movie is admittedly a little more complicated than that; there’s a running subplot throughout about finding out just why exactly the company experienced the stock crash that it did, which is actually a nice little accompanying mystery alongside the main thriller aspects. That, I assume, is where the “Not every conspiracy is a theory” tagline comes from, although I think that probably overstates the importance of that aspect.

Primarily, this movie is a vehicle for Clooney to just be quite charming; a lot of the movie revolves around his character interacting with Kyle, the gunman, and trying to stall and stay alive longer. It’s not just his charisma that matters, though, as we begin to peel back the layers of Lee Gates and realise that despite his success in life, his abrasive nature hides someone who’s actually quite miserable. It’s not exactly the deepest or most nuanced writing in the world, but it does help to give proceedings a little more depth; without this character arc, I think the whole thing would be a little flat.

Part of Gates’ character arc is defined in terms of his relationship with producer Patty, who was I think my favourite character of the movie; I’m reminded of the old Kubrick quote that the best way to make an audience like a character is to show them doing their job, and doing their job well. Patty absolutely fits into that mould, with Julia Roberts giving a great performance as the extremely competent woman who does, essentially, save the day through her professionalism and aptitude for her job. Over the course of the movie, both her and Clooney’s character come to realise that, despite their difficulties, they do genuinely appreciate one another; I quite liked the fact that the movie positioned them as close friends, as opposed to lovers, which tends to be the standard these days.

It’s not necessarily a complex movie – the theme, or message I suppose, can be quite easily summarised as “capitalism is bad!”. That’s clear enough on the surface, really, but it does permeate the entire movie when you think about it – our (ultimately sympathetic) gunman is motivated by anger at inequality, our true bad guys are crooked businessmen, and the true heroes were our honest working people in the TV studio. It’s fairly simple, but equally, I’m not exactly inclined to criticise a movie that says capitalism is bad, even if other movies say it better.

All of the above – while it did add to my enjoyment of the movie – is largely immaterial, is has to be said. What this movie is, above all else, is an effective thriller. It’s well directed by Jodie Foster, and it’s actually very tense; it had me on the edge of my seat (figuratively speaking, it was quite cramped on the plane) and I was genuinely very excited throughout. It’s very well paced, the actors all give great performances (Jack O’Connell particularly) and it’s quite a lot of fun to watch. I’d definitely recommend it.

Ultimately, Money Monster is very good at doing what it set out to do, and has a lot more going for it besides. I don’t think you could ask a lot more than that.

8/10

Related:

Film Review: Inequality for All (2013)

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