Wednesday, December 27, 2017

All The Money In The World
Crude Oil, Crude Ears And An Artful Kidnapping

Michelle Williams as Abigail Getty and Mark Wahlberg as Fletcher Chase in Ridley Scott's kidnapping drama "All The Money In The World". 

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Unlike any film I've seen in a long time, Ridley Scott's kidnapping drama "All The Money In The World" takes great pains (unlike "The Greatest Showman") to insist it is "inspired by true events."  In its opening credits and twice in its end credits we are clear that the 1973 kidnapping of oil magnate J. Paul Getty's grandson Paul (Charlie Plummer in Calabria, Italy will succumb to dramatic license.

In several dizzying flashbacks and Paul's narration (which curiously stops around the hour-mark) we are told that to be a Getty is a special thing.  So special, that Paul's multi-billionaire-richest-man-on-the-planet grandfather (Christopher Plummer, no relation) refuses to pay a $17 million ransom to Paul's kidnappers, who later dispose of his ear, not quite Van Gogh-style.  It's the kind of Grand Guignol theater that Donald of The White House plays to and gins up.  Getty and Donald are inextricable parallels: contemptuous of people, vainglorious and selfish with money.

There's a cool, sobering canvas cinematographer Dariusz Wolski creates, one that for over two hours we slither and slide around on, cold marble that doesn't break.  This calculating, artful atmosphere is the impersonal lair Mr. Plummer's icy, brilliant turn as the patriarch Getty adorns and symbolizes.  We're deep in the jowls and mouth of Getty's cavernous empire of meanness and indifference.  (Getty is Scrooge in a suit and tie.)  Abigail Getty (a mannered but very effective Michelle Williams) is trying to get her son Paul and pry her way out of that empire.  "You're one of us now.  You're a Getty," the elder Getty intones to the non-monied Abigail early on.  Abigail, who has married a would-be heir to a fortune who becomes a drug addict, alcoholic and philanderer, isn't comfortable with the billionaire's declaration.

Endless speculation persists about whether Paul engineered his own kidnapping.  The film briefly raises the question then moves on.  Real-life nephews of the kidnappers have done otherwise.  One truth in "All The Money In The World" is that the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty's grandson Paul -- to whom J. Paul has given a Minotaur, symbolism and foreshadowing if ever there was -- is like art to him.

J. Paul Senior appears to derive quiet enjoyment from this kidnapping.  Mr. Plummer doesn't make this especially obvious in his shrewd portrayal but Mr. Scott does.  The emphasis or culmination of this perversity is in the crude, disturbing ear-removing moment, shot in close-up: an ejaculatory spurt of blood.  I don't think this blood, seen in the background of one shot, is an accident.  It may be a nod to what will become known as reality TV.

"All The Money In The World" is about art and commodities and the money that buys them both.  Monotonous greed, loneliness and emptiness result.  A confrontation that occurs between two men is not nearly as great as a wordless exchange Abigail Getty will have.  In all of this messiness and seediness is a seamless merger of art, spectacle, blood, a lusting press and money.  Like 2016.  Money is the ultimate hostage-taker and the love of money has held Abigail, Paul and the whole world, including the solipsistic J. Paul hostage.  Women are similarly held hostage by men, captives in a world of wheeling, dealing avaricious gender opposites.  Everybody is a jackal and everybody is food.  Sometimes it isn't clear cut as to who is who.

The best aspect of "All The Money In The World", a riveting, ambitious but sometimes disjointed drama, is the parallel push-and-pull between negotiators and those holding hostages or being held hostage.  Ex-CIA operative and Getty right-hand man Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg, decent here at times) promises Abigail he will do everything to get her son Paul back safely.  Fletcher is an auctioneer of sorts, raising the stakes while giving Abigail maximum agita.  The more intriguing relationship of hostage and negotiator is represented by kidnapper Cinquanta (an excellent Romain Duris) and the teenage Paul himself.  They form a father-son bond warmer and more poignant than the one Paul has with his money-is-thicker-than-blood grandfather.

Mr. Duris it should be said, is genuinely touching as Cinquanta, the only person other than Abigail who sees Paul as a person.  Cinquanta is torn.  He feeds his bedraggled captive like a prisoner of a war involving an ancient evil, a war with casualties on all sides.  "Why are you bringing me steak?", Paul inquires.  He has every right to be wary.  People have long been commoditised (Africans were bought and sold with regularity during the Trans-Atlantic enslavement trade and on the shores of America, for example), and "All The Money In The World" shows there is no limit to greed or shame.  Everyone has a price but not everyone has equal bargaining power.

Mr. Scott is a director who doesn't deal in cleanliness or niceties.  Viscera has long been an exclamation mark (see "Alien", "American Gangster", "Black Hawk Down", "Blade Runner", "Prometheus".)  There's a rudeness, friskiness and cynicism to "All The Money In The World" (based on John Pearson's book) that evokes Donald Swampland U.S.A. 2017.  The director, himself from a working-class background in Northern England, shows the arrogance of wealth on the big screen and holds up its limitations, canonizing it as death sport-blood sport theater, a restrained, more upscale "Gladiator".  With each rebuff of kidnapper demands I could still faintly hear Russell Crowe shouting, "are you not entertained?"  That spurt of blood from Paul's ear says it all.

With: Andrew Buchan, Marco Leonardi.

"All The Money In The World" is rated by R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content.  The film's running time is two hours and 12 minutes. 

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