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Film Review 

I Like to Watch: Nerve and Money Monster

Vee is riding on the back of Ian’s motorcycle. They look to Ian’s phone and get a big stakes dare from their Nerve app. In Nerve, viewers front money for players to complete dares. This dare is simple; thousands of dollars, if Ian can ride his motorcycle through New York City, with Vee clutching the back up to 60mph … wearing a blindfold. You’re watching Nerve to ride with the players to success through perilous stakes; as well as observing the sadistic depths of the watchers coaxing them into escalating dares.

Nerve is a movie that’s right on time. Nerve’s an online game of truth or dare; Periscope with teeth. It draws a line in the sand between those who are going to play and those who are protected by watching. It’s a premise of taboo high stakes gambling for people who don’t know what life is like without Instagram. Nerve asks the audience and the characters a question; are you a player, or a watcher? Watcher’s subscribe for a fee and players dive into a live streamed game where your viral popularity and willingness to undertake increasingly hair raising dares earns you cash (and other) rewards. When veteran Ian (Dave Franco) encounters the wallflower Vee (Emma Roberts) – playing for the money – they are brought together by the watchers and form a bond risking life and limb for an audience glued to their phones. When stakes become life and death, Ian and Vee have to work out how they beat the game and audience alike.

Vee is a lower class student living with a hard working single mother on the outskirts of Manhattan. The beacon of NYC is shining a light that’s unattainable. She has artistic ambitions but she’s also acutely aware that her small family is not going to be in a position to afford her to fulfil this goal, in this way. Nerve feels like a folly; but the monetary rewards put her closer to that goal in ways far less frightening than prostitution, require far less ‘buy-in’ and lower risk than something like high stakes poker. Nerve’s lure is that it’s instant. In a world of “instant” Nerve gives you a risk/reward scenario that feels as familiar as counting ‘likes.’

Roberts’ Vee has that She’s All That quality of the unassuming sensitive girl, who is just waiting for the adventurous lion to emerge. Her friend Sydney (Emily Meade) is the extrovert of their group and relishes the opportunity to measure her popularity in clicks, praise and monetary gain. Vee and Sydney’s relationship is formed with a kind of class structure. As long as Vee is subservient to her need and is ‘on the bench’ of their friendship, so to speak, there’s an equilibrium. Vee’s new found grasp of that limelight immediately brings them to a confrontation. Roberts has that fragile beauty that locks her into these coy, submissive, “basic” young women. Watching her gain some stones is refreshing.

Dave Franco (your favourite Franco admit it) has the confidence and cockiness to bring Ian’s thrill seeker to life, but he’s also becoming a more well rounded performer that can access fragility and mystery to keep you on your toes. Ian outwardly appears to be a risk to Vee’s friends, namely the desperate whining and pining of Miles Heizer’s Tommy. Juliette Lewis plays Vee’s mother Nancy and that casting seems to authenticate Vee’s adventurous side. Lewis (From Dust ’Til Dawn, Natural Born Killers) is a straight up badass lady, despite her nurse’s scrubs.

Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman give Nerve  a neon glamour aesthetic that feels like someone wants to light the film from beneath a car featured in the Fast and Furious franchise. It would be pretty easy to be able to write this off as a consumerist fantasy for Instagram generation; but the characters risks earn their rewards. The currency is bankrupt in many ways (as the characters are risking their lives) it’s able to be glamorous without that sense  of entitlement.

The final act of the film is where Vee’s morality pits her against the ‘dark web’ and those anonymous faces behind the nerve game is where Nerve reverts to the uncynical and hopeful outlook, that in the context of the film (and our present day political landscape), feels absentminded. We’d do it; we imagine scenarios like being alive in 1930’s Germany. Watching the country mount momentum towards devastating conflict and profoundly deplorable inhumanity and be able to stop and say, “what we’re doing is wrong.” To paraphrase Jordan Peterson (Clinical Psychologist from the University of Toronto), the harsh truth of it all is that we’d be Nazi’s too.

Both Nerve and Money Monster are films that are as much about the the responsibility of viewers and voyeurs as they are about the their characters navigating the escalating situations that they’re being presented with. Money Monster is a stock tips T.V show where sleaze and greed are good. When a disgruntled viewer sneaks into the studio and on air with an explosive vest and a gun he wants someone to take accountability for a major stock company’s recent “glitch” that wiped $800 million off of the market and particularly his life savings. The host Lee Gates (George Clooney) and journalists behind the scenes, lead by director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), must find the answers because their lives literally depend on them.

Director Jodie Foster carves Money Monster from the cloth of films like Network and Running Man, that forewarn the collective bloodlust of viewers mutating into this must watch  ‘Gladiator TV.’ Money Monster shows that when this a gnarly situation arises, the audience can’t help but tune in to await the inevitable. Foster and writers Jamie Linden,  Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kou use journalistic integrity as a primary point of discourse. The contrived info-tainment must contend with how they’re received by their audiences. Who is watching these trashy programs if not people who are looking for a sure bet? The filmmakers challenge the ‘casino logic’ that the house should always win, the game is rigged, and if you play that you have to expect a run of a few bad hands. Casual players walking up green to a table full of killers  are going to be targeted and exploited for everything that they can possibly be milked for.

Clooney was thoroughly enjoyable as the maximum slimeball Lee Gates, being stripped back to his humanity. Watching him be rescued by this situation and buoyed back to some kind of acknowledgement of his privilege. Jack O’Connell is terrific as Kyle, a guy that’s fierce, frightening and really  completely careless and you also really have to like him.Julia Roberts is just so damned capable as the clinical, assertive director Patty Fenn. In essence, she becomes an avatar for the actual powerful lady behind the lens coordinating proceedings.

Unlike Nerve,  Money Monster doesn’t assume that their trauma will lead to some kind of change, no matter how powerful the events that unfold. At the conclusion of the film, as the events come to their climax, those people you’ve seen hypnotised are given permission to walk away. In an interview on the red carpet for his latest film Fences Denzel Washington went viral after an insightful and astute observation about the media landscape. He asks what is the result of too much information. He goes on to say that one of the impacts is the desire to be first, and not to tell the truth. He states to the interviewer, “what a tremendous responsibility that you have.” Money Monster is far more hostile, but no less shrewd.

Nerve  Score 3.5/5

Money Monster Score 3.5/5

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman 

Nerve (2016)

Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Written by: Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan)

Starring:

Emma Roberts … Vee

Dave Franco … Ian

Emily Meade … Sydney

Miles Heizer … Tommy

Juliette Lewis … Nancy

Kimiko Glenn … Liv

Marc John Jefferies … Wes

Money Monster (2016)

Directed by: Jodie Foster 

Written by: Jamie Linden (screenplay) and Alan DiFiore (screenplay/story) & Jim Kouf (screenplay/story)

Starring: 

George Clooney … Lee Gates

Julia Roberts … Patty Fenn

Jack O’Connell … Kyle Budwell

Dominic West … Walt Camby

Caitriona Balfe … Diane Lester

Giancarlo Esposito … Captain Powell

Christopher Denham … Ron Sprecher

Lenny Venito … Lenny (The Cameraman)

Chris Bauer … Lt. Nelson

Dennis Boutsikaris … Avery Goodloe CFO

Emily Meade … Molly

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