All The Money In The World

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

All The Money In The World
"These are the pigments of luminous cinema."

Ridley Scott's All the Money In The World is Christopher Plummer's show. J Paul Getty (Plummer) is not conceived as a cartoon villain, nor surface psychoanalysed - he is shown in action. Or inaction, when action counted most, when in 1973 his grandson (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher) was kidnapped in Rome. Getty, at the time the richest man in the world refused to pay the ransom money of 17 million. When asked in front of TV cameras how much he would pay for his grandson, his response was "Nothing". Plummer delivers the line with a smile of self-satisfaction. His performance is of bone-chilling perfection.

In an essay by Joan Didion from 1977 on the Getty Museum, the monumental palace tucked away high above the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, she puts her finger on the pulse of why this museum and the man who built it are so disturbing. It has to do with time and money and holds true until today because "the Getty tells us that the past was perhaps different from the way we like to perceive it."

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She continues: "Ancient marbles were not always attractively faded and worn. Ancient marbles once appeared just as they appear here: as strident, opulent evidence of imperial power and acquisition… The Getty tells us that we were never any better than we are and will never be any better than we were, and in so doing makes a profoundly unpopular political statement."

"That's why I like things - they never change, they never disappoint" Plummer's Getty says at a crucial moment while explaining to his security man for all seasons, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA operative who still has connections, as to why "being rich" is different from simply "getting rich" and the bottomless pit that opens up ready to devour the children.

Chase points to the absurdity of Getty's statements that he cannot afford to pay the money to the kidnappers to free his grandson. "Nobody has ever been richer than you at this moment. What would it take for you to feel secure?" he asks. "More" is the answer, of course. It is always the answer.

All the Money In The World, screenplay by David Scarpa, based on the book by John Pearson, delves deeply in the dolorous abyss of these timely issues. Ridley Scott is very skilled in serving us casual decision making. Why does this character trust a stranger enough to follow him? What are these people thinking? We are kept on our toes and before we can even attempt an answer, are whisked off into another totally plausible and at the same time rather fantastic world. The director who gave us Blade Runner and invented agriculture on Mars for The Martian, comprehends the power of the perfectly placed detail better than most.

The black and white lure of la dolce vita on a balmy Roman nighttime stroll quickly turns sour for Paolo, John Paul Getty III. The work of composer Daniel Pemberton (Nicole Garcia's From The Land Of The Moon, Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game, Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs) gracefully maneuvers between paparazzi, carabinieri, corruption, greed and bloody operations of all sorts.

Getty III after his awkward interactions with ladies of the night, is snatched off the street by hooded kidnappers and thrown into a van that is driven off to the countryside. His mother Gail (Michelle Williams) at first doesn't even understand that her son is being held captive. When the caller on the phone tells her "We have your son," she is relieved. The voice has to explain to her in broken English with an Italian accent that this is not business as usual. Her response is "Is this a joke?"

The one making the ransom demand is called Cinquanta, played by Romain Duris (soon to be seen opposite Isabelle Huppert in Serge Bozon's Madame Hyde), an actor of elastic talents who surprises in a multi-faceted performance. The hostage is held in a cell in Calabria and when negotiations end up going nowhere is handed to a group of professional criminals whose business is making knockoff luxury handbags. "Why doesn't your family love you? You're a bad boy?" Cinquanta asks. He will also display some Stockholm syndrome in reverse. You don't always choose whom you care for in life.

The editing by Claire Simpson is most effective when we can let logic slide. A precious, yet dubious painting of the Virgin with Child is juxtaposed with the purchase of a big slab of meat at the butchers. Yes, the sequence echoes the Merchant of Venice's pound of flesh, but it doesn't stop there. We get to understand something on an emotional level about parental love, about something alive and something dead, and about a hunger that can never be stilled.

When John Paul Getty III was a little boy (portrayed by Charlie Shotwell), he visited the archeological site of Hadrian's Villa with his grandfather. Snowflakes are falling and Getty the Elder explains how this place, designed for the Roman Emperor in 117 A.D., is where he feels most at home. Less a moment hinting at the belief in reincarnation, the scene opens a small window into the chance of bonding as we see the grandson's admiration for the old man. The questionable priceless gift of a minotaur reveals almost all there is to know.

The Getty in-between (Andrew Buchan), son of senior, father of the kidnapped young man, is the poster boy of the heir, incapable of living any kind of meaningful existence. One scene in Morocco, to the soundtrack of the Stones' Wild Horses, shows him in a drug stupor in the arms of another woman. The deliberations concerning the divorce from Gail and the custody of the children take place without him. Marrying into the Getty family means dealing with the emperor himself.

A lonely plate of tramezzini on the boardroom table, a lamp the shape of a greyhound's head, stroked by Getty's lawyer Oswald Hinge (Timothy Hutton), the "smallness of Vermeer" - we respond instinctively to what we see. The objects appear more alive than the people in the room.

"I'm a dog man" Ridley Scott told me when we chatted about The Martian over tea at the 21 Club. Dogs are present in his films, not as metaphor or symbol of any kind, but because he seems to enjoy their humanising significance in his work. Wahlberg's Chase makes a point of going to greet the dogs when he is summoned. It comes across so unpremeditated, that you wonder if it was even in the script. These are the pigments of luminous cinema.

Janty Yates' costumes, such as the son's off-white blazer with the small ornament pattern, the mother's rust-colored trench coat and the dresses and suits that fit her like a glove, not merely signal time-period and class affiliation, they are part of the larger storytelling complex. The fit of the coat and the accent Williams gives Gail flow together with the woman who opens a beer for herself, first thing when she comes into the kitchen of her apartment in Rome where the policemen sit and wait for another call from the kidnappers to tape. This is the woman who is judged for not crying for the cameras, who is hunted by paparazzi on vespas wherever she goes. You cannot not think of Lady Diana during these scenes.

The stacks of newspapers unraveling in the wind in front of the country estate in England, two women shooting clay pigeons while the Barbour jacket clad Getty makes his god-like decisions - cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (The Martian, Prometheus) lets the images of great beauty never constrain the moral underpinnings. Shamelessness goes hand in hand with ruthlessness.

You don't have to be Freud to know that a joke can be a dangerous thing.

As was true for Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street, those romanticising the life of the super rich after this cautionary tale of the price to pay, will have to look elsewhere. Plummer, who replaced Kevin Spacey after a number of allegations of sexual misconduct became public, is so brilliant that you completely forget that the scenes with him were re-shot in record time.

Reviewed on: 02 Jan 2018
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All The Money In The World packshot
The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III.

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: David Scarpa, based on the book by John Pearson

Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Charlie Plummer, Charlie Shotwell, Marco Leonardi

Year: 2017

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK

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