REVIEW: All the Money in the World [2017]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 132 minutes | Release Date: December 25th, 2017 (USA)
Studio: TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures Entertainment
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Writer(s): David Scarpa / John Pearson (book)

“‘Thank you’ is for strangers”

It’s impossible to see a disclaimer at the end of an “inspired by” film reiterating with more direct language about how the “truth” has been altered without assuming the majority of what I just saw never really happened. Ridley Scott fades to black on a seething Michelle Williams before two one-sentence captions replace her with epilogue declarations that then are replaced by the caveat of taking everything with a grain of salt. It reeks of lawyer speech as though the studio anticipated backlash from those depicted onscreen. So you’re forced to wonder who would be angry because the only character coming out horribly is richest tightwad in the world J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer). But then you remember just how weird his ex-daughter-in-law (Williams’ Gail Harris) is written.

Despite Gail proving a badass throughout as a mother with ice in her veins going up against her son’s (Charlie Plummer‘s John Paul III) kidnappers and playing hardball multiple times with the aforementioned tightwad who believes himself descended from royalty, All the Money in the World is constantly belittling her role with incessant victim-blaming. Not only does the kidnapper that we’re manipulated into feeling sympathy for (Romain Duris‘ Cinquanta) find the need to continuously state how he’s doing more for her son than she is, David Scarpa‘s script also regularly shifts focus onto her hired hand: ex-CIA knight-in-shining-armor Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg). Maybe everything plays out as it did in real life or maybe Chase’s heroics are augmented so we pity Gail rather than feel emboldened by her.

I’m projecting, but it’s odd how Scott shows Williams telling herself not to cry in front of the reporters one scene before having the man responsible for taking her son berate her over the phone for not loving him the next. It’s as though Scarpa believes adversity will make her stronger in our eyes without understanding that her child being held for ransom is more than enough adversity when paired with knowing the man who can pay refuses. His decision to therefore always put her down despite her being the sole character who is one hundred percent behind retrieving her son by any means necessary only cheapens the film. It exposes the strings by revealing how the filmmakers felt the intrinsic drama could use some emotional manipulation too.

Is it enough to derail the whole? No. The story is simply too crazy to disregard—and I’m not even talking about the film’s behind the scenes insanity wherein revelations about Kevin Spacey being a serial sexual harasser forced his part to be reshot by Plummer weeks before release or how Wahlberg held the production hostage for $1.5 million when the rest of the cast agreed to come back for free. We can let Chase find his soul and accept the nonsense thrown at Gail is to show how much was on her shoulders because the notion that a real-life billionaire actually refused to pay seventeen million dollars to guarantee the safety of his self-admitted “favorite” grandson is as juicy a piece of ego-driven American history as any.

Put the other stuff aside and simply revel in those moments when Plummer’s Getty waxes on and on with a straight face about needing to find a tax loophole to get out of bed in the morning. His greed, self-centeredness, and callous disregard for life is unconscionable and yet completely believable in the context of a wealthy man who’d rather stay wealthy than enjoy said wealth. You can almost agree with his public sentiments about not dealing with terrorists because he has thirteen other grandchildren who could then be targets for kidnapping until that same lack of emotion and heart is experienced behind closed doors too. His avarice would be commendable if it wasn’t so hypocritical to his supposed desires for a legacy his heirs will eventually sustain.

Those scenes with Plummer virtually play as comedy. That’s how flabbergasted the characters he speaks with and us in the audience are after he opens his mouth. Rather than be distracting, however, these asides actually complement the drama unfolding elsewhere. Getty has always been Gail’s motivation to be independent and prove him wrong just as he says he did to his own father. His ability to treat flesh and blood like the paintings and sculptures he buys also ensures that Chase can no longer simply see him as an eccentric old man. The fact that Getty is a sociopath therefore drives everyone forward—even Cinquanta considering his “easy payday” extends into a nightmarish descent towards Hell that has him hoping for a happy outcome where everyone somehow lives.

This means Williams, Wahlberg, and Duris do the heavy lifting. Christopher Plummer is paid to be a caricature and Charlie Plummer (no relation) a scared victim unable to look his captors in the eye at risk them being cut out. Both are good, but they hardly possess the nuance of the other three. Duris surprisingly becomes one of my favorite parts of the whole despite his character never being able to earn the compassion Scarpa and Scott wants us to provide him. Wahlberg delivers one of his best performances to-date with a legitimate grasp of empathy and subtlety. And Williams carries them all with an authentic turn as this ferocious woman who won’t be subdued by the strong-arm tactics of men without any real skin in the game.

The result is an entertaining thriller with more humor and so-real-it’s-surreal moments than I expected. It goes a bit long with one or more instances of Getty saying “No” in his droll, matter-of-fact indifference being okay to excise, but I can’t say it’s not fun to watch him do it every single time. It’s not the prestige piece many predicted, but that’s not a slight since I don’t think it had those aspirations. Scott makes his fair share of popcorn flicks with weightier subject matter than usual summer romps and this is a good example of how effective he can be in that mode. And if nothing else the film will live in infamy thanks to Spacey and Wahlberg exemplifying the reasons why their industry needs to change.


photography:
[1] Michelle Williams stars as Gail in TriStar Pictures ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. PHOTO BY: Fabio Lovino ©2017 ALL THE MONEY US, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) has a conversation with his young grandson (Charlie Shotwell) in TriStar Pictures’ ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. PHOTO BY: FABIO LOVINO ©2017 ALL THE MONEY US, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] Michelle Williams (right) and Mark Wahlberg star in TriStar Pictures’ ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. PHOTO BY: Claudio Iannone ©2017 ALL THE MONEY US, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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