Jodie Foster takes charge of the thriller ‘Money Monster’ – Detroit Free Press
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It’s a hostage situation, a financial thriller, a globe-spanning mystery and a satire of how Wall Street is covered in the news like a professional sport. But is “Money Monster” also a movie that could resonate politically, perhaps with those feeling the Bern?
“You know, I have no idea,” says Jodie Foster, the film’s director. “I’m not a very publicly political person. I’m good at making movies. I think that’s pretty much all I know how to do, that and speak French and twirl a basketball on all of my fingers. Three skills, that’s it.”
She’s speaking by phone and cheerfully downplaying the oversize talent that she has displayed since her days as a child actor.
“I think this film speaks for itself, but I also am really proud of the fact that the film is, first and foremost, a drama, and it dramatizes issues that are being talked about today,” she says. “People will certainly take from it everything that’s happening in the world today.”
Regardless of whether you want to break up the banks like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, “Money Monster” is designed to entertain you. Foster, the two-time best actress Oscar winner and current 53-year-old behind-the-camera boss, also sees it as a character study and a meditation on technology.
This year is the 40th anniversary of “Taxi Driver,” the 1976 classic that helped define Foster as a serious artist, even though she was just a tween when it was made.
But 2016 also marks Foster’s emergence with “Money Monster” as the director of a project that’s bigger and more technically challenging than her past experience with helming movies (“Little Man Tate,” “Home for the Holidays” and “The Beaver”) or TV episodes of “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.”
A live-TV nail-biter
In the film, “Money Monster” is the name of the popular stock advice show hosted by Lee Gates (George Clooney),who relies on snappy patter, sound effects and the glitz of show business to make his daily market watch as much fun as a game show or a sports roundup.
Gates is a rather preening, hollow man who seems to use fame as a buffer to any self-introspection. His emotional rock, at least at work, is his savvy producer (Julia Roberts),who is devoted to making sure he looks good in spite of himself.
The story takes a nail-biting turn when a blue-collar young man (Jack O’Connell),sneaks onto the set of the live show with a gun and a device strapped to his chest. His money is gone because he sank everything into a stock that plunged after Gates recommended it.
As the set becomes a hostage crisis and Roberts’ character attempts to maintain control of the situation, a global audience forms, and a desperate search begins for some answers to why all that money was lost.
In some ways, “Money Monster” is the strongest indictment of the tendency to treat financial journalism as entertainment since Jon Stewart’s famous 2009 “Daily Show” interview with CNBC host Jim Cramer.
Stewart took Cramer and his network to task for their hype-driven, softball coverage of the stock market. Stewart said at one point that the network’s coverage of stock market shenanigans felt like “a game that you know is going on, but that you go on television as a financial network and pretend isn’t happening.”
While Foster describes that interview as extraordinary, she stresses that the movie is completely fictitious. But she does say we’re living in an age in which the financial industry and entertainment industry are intertwined in ways that are satirized by “Money Monster.”
“That our life savings have suddenly become like a funny Italian TV show is really absurd. But it’s also America. That’s who we are,” she says.
Foster credits Clooney, who’s also a producer of the movie, and his producing partner, Grant Heslov (“The Ides of March,” “Good Night and Good Luck”),with getting Julia Roberts involved and turning “Money Monster” into a dual superstar vehicle.
“They called her up and said: ‘Hey do you want to do this with me? It will be painless. You’re perfect for the part.’ “
‘Like a theater piece’
From the start, Foster approached “Money Monster,” which essentially is a suspense thriller, as a character piece — but one with unique directing obstacles to overcome.
“In some ways, it’s an experiment — and I love genre movies — to figure out a way to use the genre as a backdrop and still really have character and a sophisticated dialogue about meaningful topics and have them be in the foreground.”
Another hurdle for her as a director? The contained, three-person nature of much of the screenplay. “It really is a play between these three people and what they have to learn through this experience and their dynamics,” says Foster. “At least 70% of the movie is two people onstage, on their own, with Julia Roberts in their ears. As far as I’m concerned, that feels like a theater piece.”
Foster envisioned fascinating contrasts between the intimate scope of the standoff and the global reach of it as a live television event that draws in viewers and the head of the company (Dominic West) whose stock somehow inexplicably tanks.
“The film has a lot of polar opposites, almost this microscopic world that’s a theater piece at its center, and then this global impact of all of these people it touches and all of these people who connect together to solve this mystery.”
Those contrasting proportions are reflected in the online world, according to Foster. “That’s the world of technology. You see the big and the small at the same time. … Everything gets communicated. There’s this weird virtual intimacy that happens between people and in some ways feels more real than real life. That’s really the world we live in.”
The filming and postproduction process of “Money Monster” was complicated by the need to create the visual reality of a live TV show. That required filming the action and simulating a multi-camera TV show unfolding in real time. She compares the task with putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
“I’m not sure the audience will ever notice it, but it’s probably technically the most difficult movie I’ve ever made, including ‘Contact,’ ” she says, referring to the 1997 science-fiction drama directed by Robert Zemeckis in which she played a scientist.
The demands of making “Money Monster” aren’t visible to the audience. “Julia was never in the same room with George except for the first two minutes of the movie and the last two minutes of the movie,” says Foster. “They shot at entirely different times and everything that she reacted to, she was either reacting to a green screen or to something that was in playback that had been shot weeks before, or not even weeks before, actually days before, which made it even more difficult.”
Throw in the fact that the consoles and chairs in the 8-by-15-foot TV control room space couldn’t be moved because of the need to match the jigsaw puzzle pieces and you can see why Foster praises the creative freedom given to her by Clooney and Heslov, yet jokes about it, too.
“Sometimes I wish that there had been a lifeline, so I could have called a lifeline. ‘David Fincher, could you please help me figure this out?’ ” she says with a laugh.
In recent interviews, Foster has been asked frequently about a hot topic in the film industry: the gender gap for women in Hollywood. At a Tribeca Film Festival talk, she spoke about the issue’s complexity and said: “Why are there no women directors in the big mainstream franchises is such an incredibly simple question. There’s so many reasons, and some of them are about our psychology, some of them are about the financial world, some of them are about the global economy. There are so many answers to that question that go back hundreds of years.”
Are there plusses to a woman’s style of leadership? “Communication, communication, communication,” says Foster. She also is quick to point out that she said at Tribeca that her favorite female director is Jonathan Demme, her “Silence of the Lambs” director, because of his understanding and championing of women’s roles.
Foster notes that another quality is just as necessary for being a director, although it’s not one that women are always encouraged to embrace.
“It’s also about having a really strong ego, and that is the part, I think, that women traditionally, not necessarily anymore, but traditionally, had to learn to become leaders. …They have to learn to believe in themselves, sometimes blindly, and believe in their vision blindly enough to say, ‘We’re going to do it this way because I believe it to be right.’ “
Contact Detroit Free Press writer Julie Hinds: 313-222-6427 or email@example.com.
Opens Friday; screenings Thursday in some theaters
Rated R; language, sexuality, violence
1 hour, 38 minutes
Read review Thursday at freep.com and in Friday’s Movies + Life section
Jodie Foster takes charge of the thriller ‘Money Monster’ – Detroit Free Press