I love watching drama that don’t got nothing to do with me. I’m super basic when it comes to that. It’s what made me super interested in the post-production of All the Money in the World, when I mostly try to stay impervious to insider shit. But this one has blown up with all the fallout and bitter recriminations of a nasty high school breakup. Ridley Scott fucking know it too, he been riding the wave like the mean girl determined to come out on top. Then, right after the Globes, the Michelle Williams gender pay disparity news broke and all of a sudden, the man too nervous to say anything.
It’s been so delicious, ego and allyship and the the dream that #MeToo may actually precipice an artistic reckoning. I just wanted the film to measure up to that real life promise, it don’t particularly. The story of the kidnap of the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and the man’s refusal to use his enormous wealth to secure the life of the boy feels mostly unobtrusive. It moves around in an amiable sorta way letting Michelle Williams, as Getty’s former daughter-in-law, fight against the capricious whims of both the rich man and her child’s tormentors.
Beside her for most of it stands Mark Wahlberg, seeming outclassed as he struggles to realise this hardball fixer type character. He’s supposed to feel like this man of mystery I think, unsuited to an actor who likes to splash big unrestrained emotion across his face. We chart their travels between England and Italy, as they negotiate their way to a compromise between two parties who would find it much easier were they cut from the proceedings.
Christopher Plummer plays Getty as an unconscionable miser, rather on brand for a man who over the past month in film has also appeared as both Scrooge and Herod. He’s working with a script that has little interest in creating anything other than a complete bastard, but finds his moments. Mostly when he’s alone, or being interrupted, I get that weird old man. No joke, Plummer knows when to drop the pretence and just be a smug tosser, letting that smirk run across his face when the character knows he’s entered a whole new realm of petty. He’s putting in fun work.
At the other end of the negotiations Romain Duris portrays the man known as Cinquanta; kidnapper, protector, guardian, and reluctant friend of the kidnapped kid: Paul, played by Charlie Plummer (no relation). Both of them get all dirtied up for their roles and they fucking own it. This evolving relationship between captor and captive, especially when power starts changing hands more rapidly than either would like keeps all these scenes in huts and stables full of life.
For her part Williams is great, literally as ever. Her Gail Getty is wonderful and determined and fragile, knowing how far she is from her ex-husband and all the wealth associated with his name. Yet she never bends or breaks under the demands that all the compromised man around her are making. She fights on her own terms, with the lilting accent of American Old Money. It’s a masterfully spun performance that is crushed by trapping her alone with Wahlberg so much when all the really interesting stuff is crushed in her periphery.
But the film rolls through it more or less, Scott wisely keeps the pace up instead of luxuriating in the detail. We lose time here and there, all of a sudden we realise we’re six months into the affair because we just haven’t been keeping track of the myriad flights they be chartering across Europe. It all hangs apart loose, there’s something almost stagey about it in a way as we transition from dialogue to dialogue, J. Paul Getty to Cinquanta, inching along our plot until we reach a sneaky, actiony finale.
I was partly reminded watching this of the Spielberg joint Bridge of Spies, though maybe I just had The Post on my brain. That film does the same sorta thing, sure we’re playing with different tones in a different genre space but in it Hanks has to negotiate between the US, the USSR and East Germany to arrange a deal that none of them want him involved in. And it manages to make every single exchange read as a win or a loss, the balance of power shifting, evolving.
This plays like a seesaw with two intransigent kids holding the spokes even. There’s nothing freewheeling or dynamic here, it feels staid. There’s a steady hand on the wheel. Scott’s own Alien: Covenant feels wildly ambitious compared to this. Everyone seems to tread their paths dutifully, and there’s an abundance of talent in this flick. There’s certainly a bunch of effort by a whole bunch of dedicated folks, but it can’t push past its own constraints.
As a political document, All the Money in the World stands strong. If you’re a big technical nerdus (like me) it can be an interesting puzzle, where’s the gaps within Plummer’s edit? It’s a fine thriller, and fine is fine.
All the Money in the World is currently screening in UK cinemas.
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