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George Clooney as James Cramer

Image result for money monster poster

I have seen some of the recently released movies, among them "Money Monster" with George Clooney and Julia Roberts. I will resume this blog's intermittent relationship with popular culture by telling you something about this one.

Clooney plays the host of the eponymous television show, one based loosely on Jim Cramer's show, "Mad Money."

Jim Cramer has been accused of using that program to pump the stocks of some of his Wall Street buddies for them.  In fact, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart expressed this opinion in a much-remarked-upon exchange with Cramer. I'm working from memory here, but IIRC Stewart said "I want a smart guy like Jim Cramer to help protect me from ... guys like Jim Cramer!"

Clooney's character is all moral ambivalence in the way Stewart's comment suggests. He has the gift for gab more than he has any acute sense of the markets, and he's putting on a show about money in a way that might lead some poor schleppers to believe they had not merely been entertained: that they had been informed.

That is, indeed, the plot. One such schlepper decided to get his revenge after he had lost his nest egg.

Clooney's character reforms and grows before our eyes, implausibly fast but that's show biz! He goes from one of the potential victims of the schlepper, to his ally, and together they do exact the desired revenge on the real bad guy, the one who ran the fraudulent operation about which Clooney had been thoughtlessly bullish.

So what was the fraudulent operation that forms the backstory for this story?  That's where this movie has some novelty. The operation in question is, at least on the surface, a high-speed trading firm, like (to provide a real life example) Citadel LLC. Like Citadel, this fictional firm (called IBIS Global Capital) runs computers which operate on algorithms which can buy and sell in microseconds, taking advantage of arbitrage opportunities invisible to the blinking human eye. Unlike most actual high-speed traders, though, IBIS is a publicly traded company, and it was on its stock value, not on its actual trades, that the schlepper lost his nestegg.

So: why did IBIS' stock take a sudden dramatic fall? The company puts out an official line on the subject, which Clooney's character parrots to the public: that the problem was a software "glitch," a problem with the algorithm that cannot easily be explained to non-mathematicians, that led to bad trades, which became public knowledge, leading to a loss of stock value.

The schlepper [that's my term for him, it isn't used in the screenplay!] doesn't buy this explanation, though, and Clooney's character in time sees through it as well. I won't go any further, thus staying well out of spoiler alert requirements. The schlepper is played (very effectively, I think) by Jack O'Connell.

I have written a fair amount about this movie without even mentioning the part played by Julia Roberts. She's a Big Name, at the heart of the marketing, yet a precis of the movie doesn't have to mention her. What's up with that?

I don't know. But I will tell you that her character's name is Patty Fenn, and that she is the producer of Clooney's television show. Her wizardry with video effects, and her ability to keep up with the star as he ad libs and improvises his way through a program, seems to be key to its success. But she is supposed to be leaving, the episode interrupted by the angry misled investor may be the last episode of Money Monster she ever does produce.


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