Mark Reviews Movies

All the Money in the World


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content)

Running Time: 2:12

Release Date: 12/25/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 24, 2017

Money doesn't mean much to J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer). It's simply a means to an end. In 1973, he is the richest man in the world. His estate in England is filled with all sorts of expensive things, mainly works of art that hang on the walls or that are hidden away, because to display them in public might give people the impression that the great masterpieces of the ages are as much a commodity as anything else. Getty, though, still buys these works, just to possess them. He likes to own "things," because people, it seems, constantly have let him down.

Getty isn't the protagonist of All the Money in the World, and there is no way to look at him as the hero, either, although he does, eventually, make a decision that helps to resolve the kidnapping of his allegedly beloved grandson. The tricky thing is that he isn't necessarily the villain, either, even though it is his stubbornness that leads to a lengthy abduction—five months—and an act against his grandson that cannot be reversed. Neither is he a tragic figure, although his life is one of isolation and emotional emptiness and the absence of anyone who genuinely cares about him. By the end of the film, we don't know how to feel about Getty, except that he lived the way he wanted to, seemed comfortable enough with the consequences of that lifestyle, and wouldn't have had it any other way.

David Scarpa's screenplay (based on a book by John Pearson) is dedicated to the headline-grabbing abduction of Getty's grandson John (Charlie Plummer—no relation to his on-screen grandfather), who was living in Rome with his mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) at the time. The film follows John's time as a hostage, Gail's efforts to convince her former father-in-law to pay the $17 million ransom, and Getty's determination to do as little as possible in regards to the kidnapping, while he keeps accumulating wealthy from his oil business and buying even more things to keep around his estate. The amount the kidnappers are willing to take for John's return keeps being reduced, and still, Getty refuses to offer any monetary aid to the woman whom he once called his daughter, in order to help the young man he claims to love.

None of Getty's actions make any sense to us, and even John, who opens the film with some voice-over narration, asserts that he hopes we can understand this family—and maybe even forgive them—by the time the tale is finished. The mention of forgiveness is odd, and the notion of collective forgiveness for the entire family is even stranger. These ideas suggest sin. We can't see any sin in John, who was 16 at the time of his abduction and had no fault in it, and we cannot see any transgressions on the part of Gail, who does everything she can to ensure the safe return of her son.

The sins belong to Getty, but sinning also implies a knowledge of wrongdoing. In no way does he seem guilty for his inaction. His grandson can see the sin, and that says as much about the kid as it does the grandfather.

This is as much understanding as Scarpa and director Ridley Scott are willing to allow Getty. He is a miserable man, a constant negotiator, a cheapskate who looks for any loophole to keep as much of his money as he can, and someone who sees himself as blameless. The film may be fashioned as a thriller, with a lot of racing against the clock and attempts to bargain with the kidnappers, but it's more noteworthy as a study of the corrupting influence of wealth, especially when that wealth exists simply so that a man can say that he has it.

It's also about the bubble in which those in possession of and associated with wealth find themselves. We can see it when Gail, who has gone on to a fairly normal life after divorcing Getty's son (played by Andrew Buchan), first answers a phone call from one of her son's abductors. Upon hearing the words, "We have your son," her instinct is to believe that everything is fine. Upon learning that John has been kidnapped, her instinct is to think that it's a joke. The difference between Gail and her former father-in-law is that she is quickly capable of understanding the reality and gravity of this scenario. Getty, meanwhile, seems to believe that his money will protect him and anyone close to him from reality.

The other major player here is Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA man who currently works as a negotiator on Getty's behalf. In a way, the character is supposed to be a stand-in for the audience. Fletcher's initial investigation leads him to believe that John's abduction is merely a prank or a scam, perpetrated by a spoiled kid who thinks he can outsmart his grandfather. Later, Fletcher becomes the voice of reason and moral authority, as he realizes that his employer is incapable of comprehending the severity of grandson's situation. Wahlberg is solid in playing the tougher aspects of his character, but in serving as the film's conscience, his performance comes up notably short.

Williams, though, compensates for this shortcoming, with a rich performance of despair and determination, and Plummer serves as a somewhat terrifying counterbalance, as a man who is convinced he has conquered his insecurities by defining his life on material success. Getty is and isn't the central figure of All the Money in the World, because he is the reason all of this happens and, still, does nothing. That contradiction is the cold, cruel heart of the man.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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