Skip to main content

We look like you, but we're not like you.

All the Money in the World
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Passionless Ridley Scott has been the most common Ridley Scott of the last two decades, a craftsman churning out technically proficient movies in little danger of lingering in the mind. He’s been at his best with more idiosyncratic subject matter (the Alien prequels, The Counsellor), although your mileage may vary on those, and at his worst churning out autopilot epics (Exodus: Gods and Kings). All the Money in the World comes in at the upper end of the solid but unremarkable scale, spurred on by several impressive performances, let down by an entirely unimpressive one, buoyed by a meaty story, reduced by the need to embellish it in the wrong – as in, unlike replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer, in a manner where the joins show – way.


This material, of the so-absurd-it-could-only-be-true variety (one of the world’s richest men refuses to pay his kidnapped grandson’s $17m ransom and even takes time out to purchase a black-market painting for $2m during the drama, although the last bit’s probably invention… probably) is obvious in its allure, so much so that, in the curious tradition of Tinseltown log jams, another telling is imminent, snapping at Ridley’s ginger heels. Danny Boyle’s Trust at least has the benefit of being in a different medium, arriving as a long-form TV adaptation in a couple of months, so should avoid the unpleasantness befouling other late-to-the-party efforts (Volcano, Wyatt Earp). It also distinguishes itself, if its trailer is any indication, by adopting a markedly different position to Sir Ridder’s latest (coming next week: Scott’s latest latest movie).


All the Money in the World addresses the possibility that 16-year-old Jean Paul Getty III staged his own kidnapping – it’s the conclusion first reached by Mark Wahlberg’s Fletcher Chase, Getty’s can-do advisor and a former CIA guy, something he passed onto grandpa – but plays events as a straightforward snatch by opportunist Calabrians. Other accounts suggest Getty III did indeed plan his own kidnapping, as a means to fund his filmmaking ambitions, and it went wrong; that appears to be the narrative Boyle and his writer Simon Beaufort chose. Amusingly, the nephew of one of the kidnappers is suing the production company behind All the Money in the World on the grounds that it slanders his family through making them appear incompetent: “They were great criminals” he boasted (such potential legal challenges might be reason the film both starts and ends stressing the narrative is merely inspired by actual events).



Of course, no one should seriously expect a fictionalised account to stand up under scrutiny (if they do, they’d be best off watching a documentary); what matters most is whether the story told is a compelling one, and whether what artifice there is draws attention to itself. Rather like Kevin Spacey’s facial prosthetics in that sense, which made this viewer wonder, before the assault allegations made headlines, why on earth Scott thought it was a good idea to cast him; whatever Scott’s talents as a visualist – and they’re undeniable, even if he’s been on autopilot in recent years – bad makeup seems to be his blind spot; he also let Guy Pearce totter on in absurdly bad old age appliances for Prometheus and compounded the error by floodlighting him. Spacey looked like he was auditioning for the tooth extraction scene in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.


Much of All the Money in the World unspools in an unfussy, procedural manner, contrasted effectively with the absurdly uncompromising position taken by the Getty patriarch, so when it does embrace more clichéd plot devices, usually in the service of spicing things up with action beats, the rather strained shift in gears in David Scarpa’s screenplay is all the more noticeable (Scarpa, adapting John “Legend” Peason’s book, also penned The Day the Earth Stood Still remake).


So Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) embarks on an unlikely but moderately successful escape bid, up to the point of an even more unlikely fake-out sequence at a small town police station. Later, when it comes time to hand Paul over, he makes a dash for it (which did happen) but the Mafia gang, rumbled by the fuzz, purse him to (another?) small town where a protracted game of cat-and-mouse ensues, Chase and mom Gail (Michelle Williams) desperately searching the same streets for him. It’s a sequence that only ever feels wrong-headed and ill-fitting given what has gone before.


Then there’s Getty, who actually died, perhaps appropriately, of heart failure three years later, suffering a stroke on what appears to be the very night of Paul’s release; it’s rather silly sledgehammer justice, aiming for the operatic but falling entirely short (his call for help in his deserted house by grabbing his previously mentioned painting, so setting off the burglar alarm, is a nice touch, however). The story is strong enough, and intriguing enough, that obvious, intrusive, “Hollywood” additions only detract from it; I’d rather it went entirely absent of overt tension, if that overt tension seems to have muscled its way in from Black Rain or Body of Lies.


On the other hand, almost everything underlining Getty’s miserly touch works brilliantly. Enough of his actual idiosyncrasies stand out – the payphone in his home; his speculation that he was the reincarnation of the emperor Hadrian; that, when he eventually delivered the ransom payment, it consisted of a tax-deductible sum and an interest-bearing loan to his son – that the additions fit seamlessly. There’s the aforementioned artwork purchase, and his handing a young Getty III a valuable minotaur statuette that turns out to be a worthless piece of tourist tat (and in retrospect encourages us to see his act as a calculated long game in assessing his issues’ tendencies). Later, Gail sending her ex-father-in-law 10,000 copies of the Italian newspaper bearing the headline announcing Paul’s dismemberment to his England estate, arriving as the wind picks up, scattering papers everywhere and sending the tycoon staggering back into the safety of his home, is perhaps the most effective visual in the picture.


Leading the way performance-wise are Plummer and Williams (it’s also fun to see Timothy Hutton showing up as essentially Getty’s Tom Hagen). The former imbues a man who invests his time, money and attention in objects because they cannot disappoint, and who is a stranger to sentiment and empathy, with a mordant sense of humour (given he said “The meek shall inherit the Earth but not its mineral rights” he was clearly something of a wit); as repellent as his outlook and behaviour are, there’s nevertheless something appealing about Plummer’s portrayal (the affection for Getty III as a younger child seems rather transposed from his actual favouring of Getty Jr – Andrew Buchan – though, who made sure to disappoint him so). Plummer doesn’t really carry off his younger self in twenty-odd years earlier flashbacks, but it might be a blessing in disguise that Scott had no time to break out the waxy, de-aging FX to draw further attention to the fact.


Williams lends Gail, the daughter of a judge (who was actually instrumental in persuading Getty to pay up), a pre-destined, aristocratic air of her own, and Scarpa makes the desperate  character resourceful and dedicated to the preservation of her son as Getty schemes to ensnare her children for himself (this is, it appears, at least partially accurate, while Getty Jr’s incapacity – he’s wheeled on as a drooling wreck late in the kidnapping game, whereas Gail was in contact with him, often having to comfort him, during the whole ordeal – appears somewhat exaggerated).


I’m not so sure the fanciful female empowerment ending achieves very much, however, suggesting a happily ever after that would feel off even if you didn’t know it was a made up (that someone Getty clearly wanted nowhere near his fortune should end up administering it may offer an ironic twist, but that doesn’t make it seem any more likely). In fact, Gordon Getty, Paul Jr’s brother, became sole trustee of the Sarah C Getty Trust (Getty’s mother, who established it), from which the family wealth derived, and family members sued for recognition accordingly. In 1985, the trust was split, with Paul Jr, Gordon and George’s three daughters – Getty’s aunts – receiving $750m each (Gordon and Paul Jr’s elder sibling Jean Roland received nothing, with the remaining $750m share apportioned among various other beneficiaries). The oldest son had committed suicide during the 70s.


Charlie Plummer makes a convincing naïf as Getty III, “The Golden Hippie” as he was known, although we ultimately gain more insight into his captor-cum-friend Cinquanta (Romain Duras). While it’s true that the initial kidnappers sold a stake in Paul (there was no police attack), the removal of his ear wasn’t nearly as clinical as Scott depicts; there was no doctor or chloroform, and – I don’t know how anyone could resist including this detail – the appendage took three weeks to reach its destination due to a postal strike. Getty III (actor Balthazar’s dad) wasn’t to go on to better things; in 1981, at only 25, he was left partially blind, quadriplegic and unable to speak following a drug cocktail that induced liver failure and a stroke; Gail took care of him until his death in 2011.


The noticeably weak link here is the highest-paid cast member, now controversially so. Wahlberg is at best competent, at worst entirely out of his depth, permanently outclassed by his peers; if he’d given $1.5m worth of performance from his reshoots, the outlay might have been worth it, but in his climactic scene with Plummer – which, admittedly, is written in the corniest, most confrontational manner imaginable – you wonder how Chase ever even gained an audience with Getty, let alone became his fix-it man. Wahlberg is a good fit for certain roles, but one thing he doesn’t give off is smarts, so when a clever character says the worst thing he’s guilty of is stupidity, you’re struck feeling that’s the only thing he’s capable of. The real Chase does seem to have been something of an idiot, but that’s not the way he’s written here (he’s played by Brendan Fraser in a ten-gallon hat in the mini-series, although that may be Brendan hiding his bald patch).


While Wahlberg’s a black spot and Carpa lets the side down with some of his lesser inventions, All the Money in the World, clocking in at two and a quarter hours, is never less than involving, even if it fails to dig much deeper than its title into its subject matter (Getty is too broad, too self-evident, for there to be much beyond a moral worn on the movie’s sleeve). The problem is, this is another serviceable Ridley picture, one that’s ironically at its sharpest in the hastily reshot scenes with Plummer, but which you feel should either have doubled down on the realism or accentuated the absurdity, so pitching headlong into the realm of black comedy. It will be interesting to see how Boyle’s series compares and contrasts.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Basically, you’re saying marriage is just a way of getting out of an embarrassing pause in conversation?

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
(SPOILERS) There can be a cumulative effect from revisiting a movie where one glaring element does not fit, however well-judged or integrated everything else is; the error is only magnified, and seems even more of a miscalculation. With Groundhog Day, there’s a workaround to the romance not working, which is that the central conceit of reliving your day works like a charm and the love story is ultimately inessential to the picture’s success. In the case of Four Weddings and a Funeral, if the romance doesn’t work… Well, you’ve still got three other weddings, and you’ve got a funeral. But our hero’s entire purpose is to find that perfect match, and what he winds up with is Andie McDowell. One can’t help thinking he’d have been better off with Duck Face (Anna Chancellor).

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Only an idiot sees the simple beauty of life.

Forrest Gump (1994)
(SPOILERS) There was a time when I’d have made a case for, if not greatness, then Forrest Gump’s unjust dismissal from conversations regarding its merits. To an extent, I still would. Just not nearly so fervently. There’s simply too much going on in the picture to conclude that the manner in which it has generally been received is the end of the story. Tarantino, magnanimous in the face of Oscar defeat, wasn’t entirely wrong when he suggested to Robert Zemeckis that his was a, effectively, subversive movie. Its problem, however, is that it wants to have its cake and eat it.

Do not mention the Tiptoe Man ever again.

Glass (2019)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, one has to admire M Night Shyamalan’s willingness to plough ahead regardless with his straight-faced storytelling, taking him into areas that encourage outright rejection or merciless ridicule, with all the concomitant charges of hubris. Reactions to Glass have been mixed at best, but mostly more characteristic of the period he plummeted from his must-see, twist-master pedestal (during the period of The Village and The Happening), which is to say quite scornful. And yet, this is very clearly the story he wanted to tell, so if he undercuts audience expectations and leaves them dissatisfied, it’s most definitely not a result of miscalculation on his part. For my part, while I’d been prepared for a disappointment on the basis of the critical response, I came away very much enjoying the movie, by and large.