All The Money In The World

money.jpg
Plummer as Getty: excellent.

* * * 1/2

Let’s clear the elephant from the room first. 88 year old Christopher Plummer is fantastic as an 80 year old J. Paul Getty in a way that a 57 year old Kevin Spacey and a ton of make-up simply could not have been. For what it’s worth, I think Plummer is the better actor, too, so there.

Now the film. Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World is a dependable, lavish and thorough telling of a very intriguing true story; if you don’t know the details of John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping in 1973, and the strange response from his grandfather – the richest man in history (to that point) – they’re all here. That’s also the film’s fatal flaw; in cramming in all the details, Scott occasionally loses the story’s drive. At two hours and twelve minutes, it feels too long, and flabby. David Scarpa’s screenplay is based on the nonfiction book by John Pearson, and Scarpa’s instruction from Scott seems to have been “get it all in”, resulting in narrative details (the minotaur!) that could easily have been cut. I hesitate to use the current critical cliché, but this material, done this way, may have worked better as a work for television – say, a six hour series.

Nevertheless, we have the movie, and despite its woolliness, it’s worth seeing. Plummer is really good. In every way, his Getty Snr. is a huge character in the film (he’s second billed to Michelle Williams, which would accurately reflect their screen time) and his seamless integration makes my head spin (there’s only one shot, in Saudi Arabia, where some digital compositing is visibly obvious). Williams is also excellent, obviously drawing on the available research to offer a portrait of a woman in distress who is not constantly flipping out. Her restraint is admirable; she shows Gail Harris’ vulnerability in subtle moments of physicality, such as removing her shoes. Charlie Plummer – not Christopher’s actual grandson! – is good casting as poor JPG III, and everyone’s artsy heart-throb Romain Duris is terrific as JPG III’s kidnapper Cinquanta.

Unfortunately, Mark Wahlberg seems miscast as ex-CIA man turned JPG head of security Fletcher Chase (don’t forget, that’s a real name). I think Wahlberg is terrific in the right role – usually comedy – but he’s not at all terrific here (and not allowed to be funny). Something is off. It’s a tough role, demanding, perhaps, layers of self-doubt – Chase made some massive mistakes along the way – but Wahlberg only brings one note.

JPG is savaged in the film, to the point that Scott seems personally aggrieved at him. It seems like the old man was a real ass. The audience I was with gasped at some of his miserly comments. All The Money In The World finally works best, not as a true-crime kidnap thriller, but as yet another reminder – always timely, and particularly now, as billionaires buy political capital – that all the money in the world can’t make you happy, and will probably make you a dick.

kevin-spacey-all-the-money-in-the-world.png
Spacey as Getty: ludicrous.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

cuboo0X2dkq-8lRAgjgAzw

* * * 1/2

You’ll come for the promise – fulfilled – of excellent production design and a feast of fabulous British thespians, but you’ll stay for the surprisingly engaging story. The Irish-Canadian co-production which couldn’t be more British The Man Who Invented Christmas took me by surprise in all the right ways. It’s a delight.

Dan Stevens plays a younger Charles Dickens than Ralph Fiennes did in The Invisible Woman (2013). It’s 1843 and Dickens is famous and seemingly wealthy, with a lovely London house teeming with life – a lovely large family, servants, tradesmen. But he’s had three flops in a row, he has debtors at his heels, and he needs a hit. Lo and behold, to guide him through the writing of his new book, a Christmas fable ultimately to be called A Christmas Carol (spoiler alert: it was a hit), the characters of the book come to life (at least for him), most notably Scrooge, played deliciously by Christopher Plummer, who is truly a fine wine, getting better and better in his rich maturity (he’s 88).

That fantastical element works (again, surprisingly!) well, but it is the warmth of Dickens’ relationships with the real people in his busy life that gives the film so much generous spirit. In particular, his scenes with his best friend / “manager” John Forster (Justin Edwards) are all superb. Edwards is best known to me from The Thick of It, but your experience may vary: he’s been in an awful lot of British TV and film, and he brings a level of decent humanity to all of it, as he very much does here.

As for that production design: it’s wonderful! The London depicted here is “clean-grubby”, teeming with urchins, chimney sweeps, musicians, carriages and all manner of businesses, many of which are wittily named. There are jokes aplenty in each frame as Dickens and his cohorts rush through the crowded streets. And those thespians? How about – besides Stevens, Plummer and Edwards – Jonathan Pryce, Miriam Margolyes, Donald Sumpter, Simon Callow, Morfydd Clark, and about two dozen other faces you’ll recognise even if you don’t know their names? Margolyes and Callow both routinely tour one-person Dickens shows, a terrific piece of gentle meta-humour of which Dickens would approve, as he would, I am sure, of this lovely movie.