Tuesday, 9 January 2018

All The Money In The World (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), has been kidnapped. His captors are demanding a ransom of $17 million, a price that J. Paul Getty isn’t willing to pay. He sends former CIA operative and now deal broker Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to assist Getty III’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) in the situation. However, as tensions grow between the parties involved, it seems that it will take more than money to pay this price.

Christopher Plummer might not have been that good a replacement for Kevin Spacey; not in acting ability, but considering the reason why Spacey was replaced to begin with, given Plummer’s decorum in his memoirs concerning underage attraction. However, given the circumstances under which he entered this product, it is quite astounding just how good his performance here is. He wears the classically-tinged hubris of his character brilliantly, managing to sell the dark capitalistic core while also allowing for a certain amount of sympathy. You can definitely see why he was purportedly Ridley Scott’s original choice for the role with how well he does with it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast isn’t nearly as efficient. Williams certainly gets some really solid dramatic moments to play with, a lot of which she delivers on, but her presence on-screen overall only amounts to being decent; not amazing, just decent. Wahlberg is incredibly miscast as this supposedly shrewd and conniving mediator for the ransom, a bit of a problem since he seems unable to get across that his character is actually that clever. Romain Duris as one of Getty III’s captors shows a jarring amount of humanity in his delivery, more so than the people trying to stop him in a lot of cases, and he offers a window into a possible character dynamic that could have made for a damn good movie all on its own. Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) plays the captive in its most passive form, never managing to rise above his character just being the victim that sets off the events of the film. He also runs into a similar problem to Wahlberg, as he gets a sporadic moment of ingenuity that is pretty cool to watch unfold but doesn’t really feel like it’s within the character’s means. Making a brief mention of him setting fires in his youth isn’t enough justification how he suddenly became MacGyver for the space of a single scene.

As you can probably tell already, there’s some definite disconnect going on with the characters here. Part of that is down to the acting, which doesn’t really elevate the material into something grand enough to warrant the running time, but there’s the writing to consider as well. Writer David Scarpa has a certain deftness as far as how much story detail there is, going over not only the Gettys’ involvement in the kidnapping but the reaction to it from the world at large. But that detail isn’t attached to actual characters; their actions define their personality, not the other way around, and the characters feel flat as a result. As said above, some of the actions made can be downright affecting, particularly with Gail’s interactions with Getty Sr. that highlight just how cold the man really is, but those actions don’t feel attached to actual people. Because of this, the main tension concerning Getty III’s safe return ends up cut short due to the lack of intrigue on his character as a person. Add to that how a fair bit of the film feels like it has been stretched out, in sharp contrast to the numerous time shifts during the first act, and a hefty amount of this turns out rather underwhelming.

But here’s the really weird part: As weak as the characterisation is, the film’s handling of theme and subtext is absolutely incredible. Scarpa’s last film writing credit being the rather lame remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still might go to explain certain aspects of the script, but there’s a lot about this that actually works really well. Namely, the film’s breakdown of capitalism. It takes the main premise at face value, about the world’s richest man playing Scrooge over his own grandson’s life (fitting, given he actually did play Scrooge last year), but it also delves into what that kind of mindset that can do to the human soul.
I specify that wording because, especially with how Shakespearean Plummer plays the role, it takes a rather philosophical approach to showing how his materialism has affected his worldview. A worldview that sees amassing material possessions as a noble goal; one where there can never be enough in one’s possession. He will always want more. Forgoing the easy Disney Princess joke, that level of dehumanization plays into a lot of the bigger machinations of the story. As Gail and Fletcher set out to try and get Getty III back, they encounter and communicate with people who don’t actually consider others to be people. They are only product, a means to gain riches either directly (The kidnappers holding him to ransom) or indirectly (A newspaper wanting to make some revenue out of reporting the story of the kidnapping, using a photo of the victim post-mutilation). This isn’t all that new an idea, as these kind of critiques on how inherently inhumane Western capitalism is have existed for many decades now, but the way it’s executed is very effective. Kind of odd, given the lukewarm nature of the characters involved, but it offers that chance for further study that Ridley Scott always manages to bring forward, even in his weaker efforts.

But this is more than just a film, or even commentary presented as film. This is the first big production that has been directly affected by the events of the #MeToo campaign starting last year. While parts of the U.S. were trying to have rational debate about why electing a sexual aggressor into a position of office wasn’t a good idea (goddamn, the defences for Roy Moore are outright disgusting), Ridley Scott looked at the allegations and went “Yeah, no; I’m not having this”. Considering how well Plummer did in the role (again, ignoring his own issues along similar lines to Spacey), I definitely think he made the right move in more than one way, but if he was going to bother re-building and re-shooting around that cast change, surely he could have done the same for some of the others here. It’s bizarre that the guy who came into the production at the latest point ended up being one of its biggest dramatic assets.
Then again, actively wanting reshoots of this nature probably isn’t wise. We’ve already seen what these kinds of switch-ups can do to a film’s integrity, from the editing hack jobs of The Snowman and even The Greatest Showman from last year, to the CGI eyesores of the Star Wars special editions. I don’t know if this is going to become a more common practice, which it very well might have to be if #MeToo keeps soldiering on (as they fucking should, don’t @ me), but this at least shows that the results of such can be… passable.

All in all, this is a very muddled and occasionally brilliant take on Western capitalism. Christopher Plummer manages to keep the entire film above water on his own, despite his limited screen time and the limpness of the supporting cast, the characterisation is flat and seems at odds with the character’s actions more times than it comfortably should, but the writing outside of that shows a remarkable salience in how it shows capitalist doctrine for the humanity-stripping ideology that it is. Add to that the grandiose psychological examinations done of Plummer as J. Paul Getty, showing him as this almost tragic figure, and you have a film that definitely has its problems but has a hell of a lot going for it.

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