All The Money In The World

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.

Spacey as Getty: ludicrous.

Baby Driver

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***1/2 (out of five)

Baby Driver starts with an outstanding car chase shot, edited, sound-designed and basically completely engineered around the song Bellbottoms (1994) by The John Spencer Blues Explosion. It is a thrilling sequence of pure cinema, exquisitely crafted and cool as f**k. Nothing in the film reaches those pre-credit heights again, and almost every scene that doesn’t have a car or a gun in it is cringe-worthy, but as an aesthetic rush and a fun romp it’s worth taking in at the best cinema you can. You want to see and hear this thing properly.

Edgar Wright, like Nicolas Wynding Refn and Ben Wheatley, is a European “star” director; their names are prominent on the poster and are considered marketable assets, often more than the actors. All three are directly and unashamedly influenced by Quentin Tarantino and, like Tarantino, more by other movies than by real life. Wright kicked off his motion picture career with the classic zombie parody Shaun Of The Dead (2004), achieved brilliance with Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and then had a big stumble with The World’s End. Shaun, Fuzz and End – known as “The Cornetto Trilogy” – are linked genre riffs, while Pilgrim is a legit comic adaptation and Baby Driver, like Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), is a legit “driver” movie, descended from Walter Hill’s 1978 The Driver, about a getaway driver with nerves of steel and very few words.

Drive took its driver into the darkest possible territory, and Refn’s spin was graphic violence: The Driver meets Taxi Driver. Wright’s spin is pop music, and his film is bright, colourful and as eager to please as a fluffy puppy – The Driver meets The Blues Brothers. The gimmick is that our driver, actually named Baby (Ansel Elgort), due to tinnitus and a childhood traumatic event, can’t drive properly without listening to his groovy mixtapes, and has earphones (specifically connected to a range of retro iPods) constantly feeding his brain. This allows Wright to virtuosically stage the film’s five or so big set-pieces to music in a blatantly self-conscious way, incorporating slamming doors, gunfire and even lines of dialogue into the beat. The term “balletic” has been applied to gun-battles since John Woo’s work of the 1990s, but these action sequences are literally choreographed to the music, so that, essentially, they feel like dance numbers in a musical.

Elgort (who has a big young female audience from his role in The Fault In Our Stars) manages to hold the centre as Baby, although halfway through I imagined mid-90s Edward Norton in the part, and can’t get the perfection of that, impossible as it is, out of my head. Lily James plays a very sweet very adorable very innocent diner waitress who, of course, has no problem helping kill bad guys two days after meeting Baby. Kevin Spacey is surprisingly adorable as the Big Bad Boss, Jamie Foxx is menacing if often inaudible as the heist team’s most unstable element, and Eliza Gonzalez, Jon Bernthal, Lanny Joon and Flea (!) round out Spacey’s stable of thieves. But one performance stands apart, lifts the movie and gives us something more to enjoy than music and motors. John Hamm plays the most complicated and intriguing of the crims, and he’s fantastic. Like all the others, his character Buddy is an archetype, another spin on another trope, but Hamm gives him texture and depth. Amidst the chaos and the iPods, he makes you care.