All The Money In The World

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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.

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Spacey as Getty: ludicrous.

ALIEN: COVENANT

UPDATE: WATCH THIS featuring Jim Flanagan and I on Alien: Covenant and all things Ridley Scott here

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And here’s our review of Alien: Covenant.

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***1/2 (out of five)

Ridley Scott doubles down on the mythology of the Alien cinematic universe in the latest instalment (and the third directed by him), Covenant, and in doing so somewhat rescues the bewildering Prometheus (2012) after the fact. Scott spends the extended second act of the new film expanding, explaining and ultimately answering the many questions that film raised; basically, if you want to know the backstory of H.R. Giger’s “perfect organism” (as described by Ash in Alien (1979)), it’s all here.

Not that you’ll understand it if you haven’t seen Prometheus. I didn’t bone up on that film before this one, but it’s fair to say that you’ll at least need to have seen it for this one to make any kind of sense (at least, during that long second act). I’m not going to reveal anything here about all the world-building, but I can happily report that the complicated plot machinations ultimately left me satisfied – and ready for another instalment, should Sir Ridley be so kind.

How many of the ensemble cast of this one would be in such a venture I obviously won’t say; as you may have guessed, some of their characters die in or around the Covenant (which is simply another name of another space vessel, like the Prometheus). You’ll have seen Katherine Waterston on the poster, so you’ve probably assumed she’s one of the major characters (spoiler alert: you’re right) but as for who else had the most days on set… well, I was surprised.

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Sir Scott remains a true master of cinema. The filmmaking craft on show is astonishing. The visual and aural atmosphere is beautifully tied into the aesthetics of the original Alien, and the creatures, although almost certainly CGI, are stirringly evocative of the animatronic “practical” monsters from 1979. Likewise, there are many moments that evoke the first film without replicating it; whether Scott refers to these as “callbacks” or not, a lot of people will, and they’re good ones. There also seem to be about four or five in-jokes that perhaps I didn’t get (and might not have been supposed to); is the musical The Phantom of the Opera name-checked because, say, Scott and Sir Lloyd Webber are mates and Ridley thought it’d be good for a giggle at the premiere?

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I had a great time throughout this darkly enchanting adventure. And rather incredibly, while the grim, scary action of the first and third acts is impeccably done, it was that long, meditative second act that I enjoyed the most. I might just have to get back on board Prometheus after all.

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