Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, March 1, 2018

OSCARS 2018: All the Money in the World (2017)

From the moment it was announced, “All the Money in the World” was an Oscar contender. Ridley Scott's movies don't always attract award attention but, when he's on-the-ball, they tend to. Adapting a stranger-than-fiction true story, about crime and money and fame, certainly seemed to bring out the best of him. Yet “All the Money in the World” ended up drawing attention for entirely different reasons. You know the story. Thanks to Kevin Spacey's public shaming as a huge creep, Ridley Scott made the drastic decision to recast Spacey with Christopher Plummer and perform extensive reshoots, just a few weeks before the film's release date. He pulled it off, because Scott is a fantastic lunatic, and Plummer got nominated. This incident will likely define “All the Money in the World's” place cinematic history so... Is the movie worth considering beyond that?

You may be familiar with the real story. J. Paul Getty brought the oil industry to the Middle East and made himself the richest private citizen in the world, a billionaire in the 1950s. At one point, Getty was close to his son, John Paul Jr., and his grandson, John Paul III. However, after his son fell into drug addiction, and his wife passed up a massive divorce settlement in return for sole custody of their son, J. Paul Getty would largely disown them. In 1973, while in Italy, John Paul Getty III is kidnapped by a circle of professional criminals. They demand 17 million in ransom money. Due to passing on the settlement, mom Gail does not have this kind of cash. She's forced to ask Getty for the money. The billionaire, however, refuses to pay. Tense negotiations ensue.

I'm happy to say “All the Money in the World” is pretty good! It's a well-balanced movie all about power plays. Getty refuses to pay his grandson's ransom because he doesn't want all his grandkids to become targets of ransom. What follows is a back-and-forth between Gail, Getty, and intermediate Fletcher Chase. Gail will demand one thing, Chase will take the demand back to Getty, and he'll inevitably deny it. Meanwhile, the criminals who have kidnapped John Paul are pulling their own power plays. The boy is traded between petty crooks and organized mobsters, who try methods both subtle and brutal. Gail, finally, has to try her own schemes to save her son, eventually realizing shame is her greatest weapon. It's an interesting dynamic, the powerful and the powerless jockeying for control.

If there's one lesson to take away form “All the Money in the World,” it's that rich people are really fucking petty. The film paints Getty's refusal to pay the ransom, and how that plays out, as one long excuse to get back at Gail. When she foregoes a settlement in favor of simply taking her son back, the billionaire is insulted. He sees his grandson's imperiled life as a way to punish his former daughter-in-law. Furthermore, Getty is exceedingly frugal for the richest man in the world. He hordes priceless paintings, sculptures, and historical artifacts. Yet he insists on doing his own laundry, instead of paying a cleaning service. Getty seemingly thinks only of money, actually saying his fortune is unavailable due to the shifts in the market at one point. It's true now as it was in 1973: Nobody gets rich by giving their money away. And people who think like that are usually assholes.

“All the Money in the World” is almost a movie split in two. While one half focuses on the negotiations with the eldest Getty, the other details on the youngest Getty's kidnapping. This part of the film functions like an especially grim thriller. John is put through hell. He's kidnapped, chained up, and threatened. He witnesses one of his kidnappers getting shot right in front of him. His health deteriorates and he's traded back and forth by various criminals. You really feel sorry for the kid, played well by the ironically named Charlie Plummer. This part of the film peaks with several key scenes. Getty nearly escapes, running to a near-by home, before his captors catch up with him. Even after his ransom is paid, he feels like he has to run. Yet the grim highlight of “All the Money in the World” is when John Paul's ear is cut off, a grisly sight that Ridley Scott exploits for all its intense power.

At first, I thought Christopher Plummer got an Oscar nomination for this, strictly to acknowledge the crazy feat of pulling off those reshoots so quickly. That was likely a factor but Plummer is genuinely great here. He exudes a sense of power, biting into every petty line with a delightful glee. The other performances in the film are impressive, if somewhat mannered. Watching Michelle Williams confront this frightening man, eventually defeating him, is entertaining. Williams is very good, even if she puts on an odd accent. Mark Wahlberg, as Fletcher, is pretty good. However, it's hard for Wahlberg to let go off his typical macho bluster, which doesn't always work for the movie. When Fletcher finally confronts J. Paul Getty, this becomes especially obvious.

It's hard to say where “All the Money in the World” will fall within Ridley Scott's overall career. He's made so many films and continues to work insanely hard, despite now being in his eighties. He uses an odd color-coding in the movie, an overall green color that is slightly off-putting. However, while perhaps a bit minor, “All the Money in the World” is a real solid one. The performances are strong, Plummer especially. The script unfolds in a satisfying manner. The true story is related in an interesting way. Oscar worthy? Who's to say? But it's certainly worth a watch or two. [7/10]

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