Monday, May 14, 2018

All the Money in the World


This remarkably cold movie tells the true story of the kidnapping of the grandson of the richest man in the world circa 1973. J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is the grandfather who refuses to pay the ransom. The boy's mother Gail (Michelle Williams) spends her time pestering her father-in-law for the cash and working with his personal agent (Mark Wahlberg) who has instructions to find and rescue Paul III (Charlie Plummer) as inexpensively as possible.

Directed by Ridley Scott. And it feels it.

This whole film is a character study in coldness -- using a chilly aloof tone as if it were a medium, such as oils or charcoal. Most obviously, it is tinted literally in cold colors; dark, lifeless pale blues and sickly yellows. This bothered me slightly. When color grading is obvious to me it takes me out of the picture. The beginning was in black and white, and it was the only time the film looks truly beautiful. I wish it had stayed that way, but the otherworldly color grading was intentional, and knowing that helps a little.

Then, famously, Mr. Getty's steely and calculating actions. He claims to love his grandson, yet openly refuses to pay. "I have fourteen grandchildren," he says, "if I start paying ransoms, I'll have fourteen kidnapped grandchildren." And there's no denying the logic in his reasoning, no matter how repulsive and frigid it feels. But he seems to use this reasoning as an excuse, pinching pennies in spectacular fashion and hesitantly spending his billions on inanimate pieces of art which he talks to with tenderness unused toward the living.

He is affectionate toward Paul as a kid, which only makes his later carelessness worse.

The monologue in which he explains why he values beautiful things over people was most telling to me. Things don't change; people do. I found his character magnificently fascinating, and Christopher Plummer pulled off the part beautifully, with an underlying softness in his eye that hints at endless complexities within this enigmatic man. He did a similar job with a similar character in Nicholas Nickleby, but that didn't degrade the fascination or entertainment he provided at all. I'm glad he was the last-minute replacement, if only because he didn't require prosthetics, so his performance came through effortlessly, and with intricacy.

He was the one character you expect coldness from. It was unexpected in the character of Gail. It would've been endlessly annoying if she had been panicking throughout the film, but her focused calmness came across at times as just calculating as he father-in-law; intentionally, I'm sure. As the character who drives the story, it's interesting to see her contrasted with Getty as they both work essentially the same way to achieve their goal, only hers is a noble goal. But underneath she still has an anxiousness and desperation that occasionally reveals itself. Even in the end when she and Paul are reunited she still doesn't melt, but instead redirects her strength to support and assure him.

The kind of nice kidnapper was not a real person.

Paul spends the movie growing more and more passive, until you think he's adopted that Getty stony demeanor permanently. When he finally does break down it is the antithesis that concludes the cold pattern and the film. Strangely, the warmest relationship is between Paul and the kidnapper who's assigned to guard him (Romain Duris). From being friendly and trusting, to turning a blind eye when Paul tries to escape, to actively saving his life, he's the film's most personable character. Yet the film is sure to show him receiving and pocketing his cut of the ransom. No one here is cut and dry.

Though Christopher Plummer is the only actor here whose character is capable of reaching shock-and-awe levels, the rest of the cast puts every bit as much work in, and find their moments to impress. Even Mark Wahlberg who I thought for sure would take me out of the movie was natural in the seriousness and disappeared into his role. Williams commands every scene she's in, and Charlie Plummer is one of my new favorite things -- though I still haven't seen Lean on Pete, the movie that informed me of his existence in the first place. He's got talent that stands out, but perhaps more importantly, he has a naturally magnetic screen presence; something you can't learn.

Though sometimes the point seemed on-the-nose, scenes like these had easy depth and rhythm.

Usually I go into movies hoping that I'll be able to empathize with the characters; here, even regarding a kidnapped teen, inducing sympathy into the audience isn't the goal. These characters are made to be real and complex -- sometimes to the point of seemingly contradicting themselves -- and we are not invited to feel for them, but to observe them; as coldly and calculatingly as they observe the world. It's from this perspective that the film finds its significance. Liberties are taken with the truth of the real-life event to make a more cinematic and impactful ending, but understanding the mission of the film, that was a wise choice.

In short, perhaps this isn't best viewed as a true story. As Paul says to us via voice-over, it's like they're from another planet. Perhaps this story is best viewed as a glass exhibit of strange, cold-blooded caricatures; equipped with a moral to help us see that though we may lack all the money in the world, it was they who lacked in the riches this world has to offer.

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