J Paul Getty Had A Fortune, Everyone Else Paid The Price
The story opens in 1973 with the kidnapping of sixteen year old JP “Paul” Getty III played by Charlie Plummer. This news is received in contrasting ways by the boy’s mother and grandfather respectively. His mother, Gail Getty [Williams], initially dismisses the phone call as a flippant joke before the severity of the matter hits home and she pleads that there she cannot pay the $17 million ransom. The boy’s grandfather, JP Getty, the oil tycoon branded as the richest man to ever live (portrayed by Christopher Plummer) on the other hand, dismisses the notification, fixated on the opening market rates. Through flashbacks we learn of the relationship between Paul and his grandfather and the rift that formed between them all in the subsequent years. Ignoring Gail’s calls, Getty appears on national television and explains that he will not pay a penny for his grandson’s return, explaining that if he were to pay up, his other fourteen grandchildren would be targeted. Behind the scenes, Getty hires ex CIA operative Fletcher Chace and tasks him to get his grandson back while keeping Gail occupied and away from him.
This type of release is exactly what one would expect of someone of Scott’s achievements and years. A release firing on all cylinders both in front of and behind the screen. From the opening scenes it is apparent how rich and beautiful this entire film will be thanks to Dariusz Wolski exquisite, lavish, dark cinematography; evocative of films of the period but also reflecting the mood and tonality of the characters occupying the shots. The production design is just as wonderful with a great sense of period from the costumes, to the sets, the hair and make-up, etc. On top of that, the pacing, editing and direction all come together masterfully to create scenes of marvellous tension and unease. In truth, everything Scott should be producing at this stage in his career should have a starting point of at least the technical quality of this release.
Loosely based on real events, All The Money In The World boils down to a very straight forward narrative, almost a taught, tense family drama masquerading as a thriller. This is in no way a slight against the film as what we end up is a pleasing and captivating tale but I think audiences come into this kind of release expecting a series of elaborate twists and turns but often the most engrossing thing can be interesting characters driving a simple plot thread. In that regard, it’s no surprise that the central draw for this film are the performances. Charlie Plummer performs decently as Paul expressing fear and frailty but also a surprising amount of resilience and ingenuity which keeps his character from being a whiney spoilt rich kid that we can neither relate to nor root for. Equally, Romain Duris as Cinquanta, the criminal go-between, gives a great performance feeling indicative of a young Vincent Cassel. But the film is ultimately led by three powerful performances. Michelle Williams plays Gail in a refreshing manner, while she is suffering and displays a drained fragility, the true core of her character is one of strength, intelligence and steadfast determination. There’s also the classic issue of the two Wahlbergs; specifically which one will turn up, the soft-voiced, bemused-looking, underwhelming Wahlberg or the transformative, commanding, outstanding Wahlberg. Thankfully Chace is the latter, a nice pairing for Williams’ role, with equal determination and strength of commitment. It’s all too easy to write a former intelligence agency character as an unstoppable, infallible being but when one is presented with a believable individual who acts with an air of experience and a genuine moral centre, you generate a truly compelling individual. Again, thankfully, Wahlberg was able to channel this with maturity and brings to this life calm, steady individual.
As far as a character study goes, JP Getty is a fascinating individual; a man of money, success and a sociopathic darkness. At times he shows genuine affection for his own flesh and blood and it is evident that he would do anything for their shared happiness and success. Other times he is the most unscrupulously pragmatic individual, always looking for the bottom end, the best deal and the most beneficial move for him and him alone. It takes a very capable actor to channel that complexity and Christopher Plummer is more than a perfect choice for the role. Both stern and warm, calculating and reactionary, in command yet helpless. It is, however, quite impossible to talk about this film without addressing what could have been. I will admit that unless you are specifically looking for the differences between the original shots and the reshoots, you would be hard-pressed to identify the seams but the fact remains that a key role in this film was shot with a completely different individual in place. The only thing I’ll say about Kevin Spacey is that based on the handful of shots from the pulled trailer, under all those questionable prosthetics, they should have cast Plummer from the get go and I can’t imagine any way in which another actor pretending to be a man of his years would be able to improve upon what made it into the final cut.
While it doesn’t break new ground in terms of how this kind of story is told, what is offered up is extremely pleasing, housing some very interesting characterisation and portrayals.
5th January 2018
The Scene To Look Out For:
After Paul is sold to a different organisation, one clearly more experienced, financed and intent on getting their money, he uses an impressive amount of ingenuity to escape his captors. Weak and desperate, he runs along the roadside before being picked up by the police. Feeling the ordeal is finally over, he asks to use a telephone. At this point, the audience will be divided in two, those who know what’s coming and those who don’t; either way, the execution is crushing enough that one is not robbed of satisfaction. Getting through to his mother, Paul asks where he is but before he can relay any useful information, his captors appear and hang the phone up, as it is immediately evident that the police are being paid off by the mafia.
As much as this film gets right there are a few glaring issues which bring it down from a five out of five – from the occasional convenient development to the lack of originality, rarely stepping outside of the genre trappings. One of the biggest points of neglect is the role of Paul’s father, John Paul Getty Jr. I’ll admit there isn’t much space in the runtime to really analyse who this man is and what happened to him but his inclusion ranges from unimportant to pivotal, to the point that, while he’s admittedly a pawn, his presence is unusual and feels underutilised.
“There’s a purity in things that I have never found in people”
In A Few Words:
“A very capable and pleasing classic thriller with standout central performances, muddied only by minor infractions and developments behind the scenes”