Saturday 13 January 2018

Movie Review: All The Money In The World (2017)

A kidnapping drama inspired by real events, All The Money In The World is a cerebral thriller set in the surreal world of the very rich.

Rome, 1973. Teenager Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer), an heir to one of the world's largest fortunes, is kidnapped by a gang of thugs, including Cinquanta (Romain Duris). The abductors hold Paul at a countryside farmhouse and demand a $17 million ransom. Paul's father (Andrew Buchan) is a good for nothing drug addict, and his mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) is broke and has no access to any of the family's money. Paul's grandfather is John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), the richest man on earth, but he has no interest in paying for his grandson's release.

With an international media circus erupting around the kidnapping case and Gail determined to rescue her son, Getty dispatches fixer and ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to resolve the crisis. Chase and Gail form an uneasy working relationship, while Cinquanta and the captive Paul develop a mutual empathy. Soon a break in the case allows the Italian police to make their move, only for young Paul's ordeal to get much more complicated.

Written by David Scarpa and directed by Ridley Scott, All The Money In The World is a smart and character-rich crime thriller. More remarkable for being based on a true story, All The Money In The World combines the story of a physical kidnapping with the drama of multiple emotional confinements, and emerges with a layered and complex narrative. Bouncing between San Francisco, the Italian countryside, Getty's English estate and with brief sojourns to Middle East locations, Scott maintains an energetic pace and a firm grip on a story involving just a few people but carrying global implications.

All The Money In The World ventures into the warped psyche of John Paul Getty, a man obsessed with wealth creation but also mentally trapped by the title of the world's richest man - ever. John Paul views everything through the singular prism of negotiated dealmaking for the purpose of asset collection, and his essential need to emerge as the winner in every transaction. Parting with $17 million to rescue one grandson while placing all his other grandchildren at potential risk of copycat kidnappings simply does not begin to compute. John Paul is not only not interested in the deal, he is not interested in spending any mental effort on what is clearly a losing transaction.

The grandfather's intransigence leaves the mother in dire straits, and Gail Harris becomes the sole advocate and agitator to save her son's life. Caught between brutal and faceless kidnappers on one side and Getty's aloofness on the other, Gail fights a lonely battle against seemingly impossible odds. Neither rich nor greedy, Gail is the most normal person in the story and Scott places her in the middle of the film, forced to make increasingly desperate appeals for Getty's intervention as she negotiates for her son's life but possessing nothing of value to bargain with, other than her wits.

Scott further enriches All The Money In The World by spending time with young Paul in captivity, and sketching in the character of Cinquanta. The two men are essentially occupants of the same prison, and Scarpa's script gives the kidnappers a human face if not too much definition. Fletcher Chase as John Paul's go-to fixer becomes Gail's one ally. His role is the film's most uneven thread, as Scott never settles on a convincing tone for the bond between mother and troubleshooter.

Christopher Plummer was a late casting replacement brought into the film as John Paul Getty, and he delivers a dark and brooding performance as a man already transformed into a haunting presence while still alive. Michelle Williams is forceful, conveying a mother trading emotional anguish for pragmatism to deal with a crisis that no one else cares about.

All The Money In The World is a fascinating examination of confinement in all its forms, permanent and temporary, imposed and self-inflicted, behind bars and within walls adorned with masterpieces.

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