JUST as controversy creates cash, cash can create controversy.
That has been the lesson learnt (on more than one level) from Ridley Scott’s film All the Money in the World, an intelligently constructed biographical film that has been overshadowed by surrounding controversy. From the ousting of Kevin Spacey following allegations of sexual misconduct to the gender pay disparity outrage ignited by the subsequent reshoots.
All the Money in the World follows the story of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping in 1973 and his billionaire grandfather’s stubborn reluctance to pay the $17million ransom.
At the heart of this incident is John’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams). She must try to persuade the richest man in the world (J. Paul Getty, played by Christopher Plummer – not Spacey) to part with cash. If he does not – and JP Getty likes his cash – her son will be sent back in little pieces by the Italian criminals who have kidnapped him.
Williams, carrying on her form from Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women and Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, proves once again what a masterfully understated actor she is.
There is an air of Natalie Portman’s Jackie Kennedy in Williams’ portrayal of Gail, both respectable women trying to keep themselves together under severe public and emotional strain. Williams treats Gail with a restraint that feels delicately true and never slips hyperbole. Excellent.
Pivoting around Williams’ emotional heartbeat, Scott expertly balances the film’s three strands to hold our intrigue. The scenes of John’s kidnapping grow harder to watch, particularly as his physical and mental health begins to deteriorate.
When he is handed from rank amateur kidnappers (they are incompetent enough to keep letting John see them without their masks on) to Italians mobsters, his perilous situation cranks up to a nail-biting and grimacing effect. The corruption of Italy’s Years of Lead are on display, as are the desperately high stakes which result in one especially gruesome incident. Yes, body parts are removed to demonstrate that the Mob mean business.
John’s struggles are interspersed between two juxtaposed responses to his kidnapping. His mother, helped by former CIA agent and Getty security man Fletcher Chase (Mark Walhberg), investigates all possible ways to get back her son. Gail is constantly hassled by the paparazzi whenever she leaves her home and is routinely woken in the middle of the night to answer calls from her son’s captors.
Getty, on the other hand, enjoys a more leisurely time. He refuses to meet with Gail and lectures Chase on limiting the costs of the rescue operation, despite claiming that John in his fondest grandchild.
Getty would rather spend his money on underground artwork and dedicate his time to protecting his mammoth wealth. There may be a roaring fire place in his mansion, but Getty’s own interior is as cold as ice. He is a selfish and a hard-nosed businessman who has made zillions of dollars from oil and is quite happy buying art, only to leave it in wrappers under the stairs.
Apart from a noticeable CGI blip in the desert, the decision to plug Plummer into the film at the last moment is rewarded with a mightily impressive performance from the veteran actor. Up there with Gary Oldman’s Churchill.
All the Money in the World is a fascinating study of the corrupting powers of money and power. A worthy film – the opening frames are beautifully filmed – that has thrown up lessons both on and off-screen. Well worth watching.