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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

All the Money in the World

The most amazing thing about All the Money in the World is the fact that it remains an engrossing drama, even with the behind the scenes story of its original star, Kevin Spacey, being replaced and having his scenes be reshot with Christopher Plummer in the role.  I thought for sure it would be distracting, or perhaps make the scenes that were filmed later with Plummer stand out from the rest of the footage in some way.  But director Ridley Scott has pulled off a cinematic miracle, and has made a film with no seams that manages to be completely enthralling.

Based on the nonfiction book by John Pearson, this represents Scott at his very best.  The visuals, performances, and the way he creates a specific time and place all come together to tell a morality tale that is just as powerful now as it was when it happened back in 1973.  We are introduced to John Paul Getty (Plummer), who we are told is not just the richest man in the world, but the richest man ever at the time.  He brought oil over from Saudi Arabia, and turned it into an enormous fortune that he has mostly kept to himself, for tax reasons.  Early in the film, his estranged son, John Paul Getty, Jr. (Andrew Buchan), turns to his father for aid, as his family cannot afford a decent life anymore.  They are welcomed by the elder John with open arms, but neither John Jr. or his wife Gail (Michelle Williams) are prepared for what's to come.

The son accepts a job working for his father's oil company, and within a few years, he has been transformed from a loving family man into a drugged-out husk of his former self.  Gail leaves him, and takes their children with her, but as she learns, she will never be able to live down the Getty name, which represents wealth and power.  Even though she has no access to the fortune, everyone assumes that she does.  That is why her eldest son, John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher), is kidnapped by thugs while he is vacationing alone in Italy.  The kidnappers demand that Gail pay $17 million, money that she does not have, for her son's return.  And when she asks her father in law for the money, he refuses to pay the ransom.

Why would he refuse?  Well, there's always the possibility that this could be an elaborate prank.  After all, the young John III has made jokes with friends in the past about staging a fake kidnapping in order to shake his grandfather down for money.  But even after it's proven not to be a hoax, he still refuses to pay, stating that if he pays the money, then other people will get the idea in their heads that they can threaten him for money by kidnapping his other family members.  He puts on a brave face before his family and the media, but in reality, it's pure greed and cowardice.  Gail finally finds an ally in Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a Getty associate who has dealt with these kind of situations before, and agrees to help get her son back home safely.

All the Money in the World is a successful mix of a true crime story, and a personal family drama, as Gail is forced to witness the greed and uncaring nature of her father-in-law.  It's also a survival story, as young John Paul Getty III tries to escape captivity.  Those who know the story are aware of what happened to young John III while he was prisoner, and the movie pulls no punches in depicting the gruesome incident in question.  It is necessary to show it in order for the story to have maximum impact, and Scott shows us the horror of the situation without reveling in it.  This is not so much an exploitive story, as it is a quietly powerful one of a mother's determination to track down her missing son, and her ability to face those in her family who oppose her, as well as putting a brave face for the media.

And it is Williams' performance as Gail that shows that determination and power.  It's a quiet performance, and she never overplays her emotions, nor does she seem like she's acting for the camera.  She doesn't get a big scene where she grandstands or makes a powerful speech that spells out what she's feeling, nor does she get a scripted moment where she monologues about what she's feeling.  All of her rage, betrayal and fear are there in her face and mannerisms, and the performance is better for it.  As for Christopher Plummer, he could not be better, especially considering he was a last minute replacement for Spacey, and the fact that he only had nine days to film his scenes.  This is not just great acting, but a great directing and editing job as well, as Scott and his team had to insert the new footage with Plummer and make it look completely natural.  They have succeeded.  There are no seams, and if there had been no media coverage, you would not be able to tell that there was a casting situation and reshoots in the first place.

All the Money in the World is a timely and effective drama that burns with a certain intensity that manages to be subtle.  It's a quiet and powerful film that draws from the quality of the performances, rather than staged moments that feel false.  The behind the scenes drama has not robbed the film of a bit of its inherent qualities, and it is simply spellbinding to watch.

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