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

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.