Money Monster isn’t Margin Call nor Boiler Room. Money Monster is a thriller with no pretensions at being profound nor ambitions to explain the nitty-gritty of stock trading. It’s about a financial guru with a popular TV show, the CEO of IBIS Clear Capital that the guru assured viewers was safer than their savings account and an investor who lost his life savings. Spoilers ahead.
Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the financial guru, his TV show is called Money Monsters and the show’s director is Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts). Fenn remarks early in the film that Money Monsters, the TV show, is not journalism.
When the film opens, IBIS Clear Capital’s stock has taken a dive and the company lost $800 million. IBIS CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) attributes it to a glitch in the computer algorithm then leaves for Geneva.
At the TV station, a “delivery man”, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), walks into the set. He pulls out a gun and forces Gates to wear a vest packed with explosives. Budwell lost all his money when the IBIS stock plummeted and he wants an explanation. The hostage situation, at Budwell’s insistence, was televised in real time.
The real drama is how the hostage situation forced the TV show to conduct investigations worthy of true blue journalism. With lives at stake, everyone connected with the show was suddenly hell bent on discovering the truth about the IBIS $800 dollar debacle. A far cry from its strategy at the start of the film when Gates was supposed to interview IBIS CCO Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) based on talking points that Lester herself had prepared.
I don’t know how many viewers missed the significance of the prepared talking points. For those who did, it simply means that Gates, the financial guru, was a mere mouthpiece rather than a bona fide financial analyst.
I don’t know how many viewers missed as well how IBIS CCO Diane Lester tried to explain the situation with what an already-scared Gates plainly called a “PR spin”. I know very few people in real life who can detect a PR spin when confronted with it but, seriously, it’s a skill worth developing so you’d know how to tell the difference between lies and half-lies, and truths and half-truths. When you develop the skill, you’ll know when the customer service representative on the other end of the phone line, for instance, is giving you real answers or merely repeating lines from a prepared template. And that’s a very mild example because we get a lot of PR spins from the government, from government officials and even from so-called activists.
To cut to the chase, the ISIS debacle was not due to a glitch. CEO Walt Camby took the $800 million to “buy” a strike in a South African platinum mine. The strike was meant to make the mining company’s stock take a dive so Camby could start buying at rock bottom prices. When the fake strike was over, the prices of the stocks would go up again, Camby would sell and make a killing.
If you think that stock manipulation only happens in the fertile minds of movie scriptwriters, you should read Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart. It’s non-fiction and Stewart is a Pulitzer prize winner. The link points to excerpts but it’s better read it in full to understand that the price of stocks of a company can be manipulated by something as seemingly harmless as rumors of a takeover.
I was surprised to find out at the end of the film that it was directed by Jodie Foster. Alex said she had told me that before and was upset that I didn’t remember. Looking back, I must have subconsciously brushed the information aside because the first and last Jodie Foster-directed film that I saw put me to sleep. The film was Contact.
Money Monster didn’t put me to sleep. It was quite an enjoyable ride, actually.