Jodie Foster is a fan of “The Big Short.” Just don’t make too many comparisons between the Adam McKay zeitgeist picture and her new film, “Money Monster.”
Despite the obvious similarities — class resentments over a rigged financial system -- she says she feels that at bottom they’re very different works.
“I love ‘The Big Short.’ That’s a historical movie about the mortgage crisis. It really tried to say something no one had said before — we’re going to show you how complicated it is.
But our film does the opposite,” she says of her latest directorial effort, which premiered Thursday night at the Cannes Film Festival before opening commercially in the U.S. Friday. “We take the audience almost through a class of how they got screwed. We talk about how the system is made complicated,” when it’s actually rather simple.
Certainly it is for the film’s Lee Gates (George Clooney), who has lived the easy life by turning the business of stock tips into a cable-news circus. At the start of the film, working-class Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) turns up with a gun and a bomb. He demands retribution from Gates for losing his life savings due to a bad investment recommendation — raising the stakes as the film looks to walk the line between thriller and social critique. Gates, Budwell and the cable star’s producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), are locked in a standoff that soon comes to involve a possibly corrupt Wall Street leader (Dominic West).
Foster, 53, says she was motivated to take on the script (by Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf and Jamie Linden) because she thought it could strike a balance between thriller and drama.
“I wanted to honor the genre and make it fast-paced and exciting. But you also weave into the fictional world and the tech world,” she says. “It can be moving and intellectual. So many movies resist the intellectual part.”
At the end of a long day of press at Cannes, Foster sips a glass of wine as she looks out at the yachts and cruise ships below through a small, nautical-style window from a suite atop a hotel.
“Money Monster” is her first directorial effort in five years (after “The Beaver,” which she brought to Cannes as well). That would seem like a long time, but for the fact that it had been 16 years before “The Beaver” that she’d directed a movie (“Home for the Holidays,” not on the Croisette).
Cannes holds a place in Foster’s heart — she came here as a teenager with “Taxi Driver” more than 40 years ago. The movie won the Palme d’ Or and established her as a prodigal star. (“I was fortunate to be a part of it. I was kid and unconscious, but fortunate.”) She is alert in a different way this time: “Money Monster,” for all the ways it indicts the system, also asks audience members to question their own complicity.
“We think the bad guy was doing something wrong and it was all about lining his pockets. But you weren’t complaining when you were making money,” she says, alluding to a monologue from West’s character.
Foster remains fundamentally bleak in her economic outlook.
“We all came back after [the crash of] 2008 and thought it was behind us. But this won’t be the last time. I think the system is ripe for abuses because it’s created and run by the same people who were abusing it the last time. What’s the next bubble, and how is it going to be with the advent of all this new technology?” she asks. “I think there will be a meltdown and it will be way way worse. Because we’ve regulated the business in the U.S. But what happens in Gabon? In Ukraine? Places that are not regulated. The West is bleeding the globe for money and sticking it back in our pockets.”
The next day at a news conference, when asked if the film was in fact political, and perhaps could even be viewed as an implicit endorsement of Bernie Sanders, she says, “Kyle does represent a kind of rage that a lot of people feel about how the use of technology and the biases of the financial system and now they’re left behind. [But] I’m not sure that’s a Bernie issue — I think that’s more of a Trump issue.”
Clooney, at the same news conference, says that to him the film represents the fulfillment of a sad prophecy. “Everything Paddy Chayefsky wrote in 1975 is coming true,” he says, alluding to the movie “Network.” “It just seems like we got used to some schmuck telling you where to put your money. And they do it for entertainment but people listen to it.”
He adds, “This film reflects a moment we got to where news stopped being a loss leader, and ‘we’re actually going to inform people.’ Twenty-four-hour news doesn’t mean you get more news. It means you get the same news more.”
Despite the more strategic approach to directing in the past, Foster says it’s something she’d like to focus on.
“Four out of 25 years is not a lot,” she says with a small laugh. (Her first movie, “Little Man Tate,” was made when she was still in her 20s.) "But now is my time. I’m really ready,” she adds, implicitly rebutting that speech from the Golden Globes a few years ago when many thought she might be retiring.
A TV series about an alcoholic woman trying to get her act together, “Charlie,” is not moving forward, she said, so she’s scouring for her next film project. (She does continue to direct television, most notably for Netflix, with “House of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black.”)
She says she doesn’t expect to act as much, in keeping with her more sporadic work in front of the camera in recent years. And when she does, she says, it will not resemble her earlier work.
“I want to keep acting, into my 60s and 70s. But it has to be different,” Foster says, without getting specific.
In the meantime, she’s hoping her new movie has an effect beyond the box office, hopes it makes people turn inward as much as to their leaders.
“You can point to the bad guy,” she says. “And there are a lot of bad guys. But as we see in the movie, a lot of us are at fault too.”