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Catching up on 2017: Josh Reviews All The Money in the World

In 1973, teenager Paul Getty, grandson of the wealthy J. Paul Getty, was kidnapped in Italy.  Paul’s grandfather J. Paul Getty was considered to be not only the richest man on the planet but perhaps the richest man who had ever lived.  And so, the kidnappers thought they could get a small fortune in exchange for young Paul’s return.  Ridley Scott’s film All the Money in the World chronicles these dramatic events, including Paul’s ordeal and the plight of his mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams).  With J. Paul Getty unwilling to pay the ransom, Gail was caught between navigating the kidnappers’ demands and her obstinate father-in-law, hoping to find a way to bring her son back alive.

I quite enjoyed All the Money in the World.  I included it on my list of my favorite movies of 2017!  It is a riveting, well put-together drama.  I love watching Ridley Scott’s expansive fantasy or sci-fi films — Mr. Scott can create fully-realized fantasy films like no other — but a film like this reminds us that Mr. Scott is equally adept at crafting entertaining films set in our real world, without the exciting sci-fi trappings.

This film made big news in the weeks before its release because of Mr. Scott’s decision to completely remove Kevin Spacey from the film and reshoot all of his scenes with Christopher Plummer in the role.  This would have been an arduous process in any situation, but even more so because all of this went down just a month before the film’s release.  That Mr. Scott was able to so massively rework his film mere weeks before its worldwide release is an extraordinary accomplishment.  The reshoots and re-editing were done perfectly seamlessly.  You would never know that a huge chunk of this finished film was created in reshoots.

What is even more amazing is that Christopher Plummer is the best thing about this movie!  His performance is incredible; I am not exaggerating to say that the main reason to see this movie is to see Mr. Plummer’s fierce work in the role.  He commands the screen every second he appears.  Every character in the film lives and acts in Getty’s shadow.  Mr. Plummer’s performance makes this real.  He creates in the elderly J. Paul Getty a fearsome, tough-as-nails presence.  It’s extraordinarily compelling.

Michelle Williams is great as Gail Harris, the mother of the kidnapped boy.  Ms Williams shows us her core of toughness, as she finds herself caught between the kidnappers demanding money and J. Paul Getty, who refuses to pay the ransom.  It’s an impossible position, and the film has great empathy for this woman.  Ms Williams’ strong work allows us to feel this without turning Gail into a weak, fragile flower.

Mark Wahlberg plays Fletcher Chase, a former CIA operative tasked by J. Paul Getty to keep an eye on Gail and to see about securing young Paul’s release.  Mr. Wahlberg is fine in the role, though I felt this character was the film’s main weak point.  We didn’t get to know Fletcher nearly as well as I’d expected.  When we see him begin to spend time with Gail, I thought the film would develop their relationship, but by the end of the movie I was surprised I didn’t have much sense of how the two felt about one another.

Charlie Plummer (who is not in fact related to Christopher Plummer) does great work as the young Paul Getty.  I was pleased that the film allowed us to spend time with Paul, both in flashbacks to his life before the kidnapping and also throughout his ordeal.  We have to care about Paul for the film to have weight, and Charlie Plummer does a great job at bringing Paul to life and making sure that the audience is hoping against hope that Paul will make it out of the experience alive.

Mr. Scott is able to build and maintain a strong tension throughout the film, as we are hoping that somehow Paul will be able to be reunited safely with his family.  (I knew this was a true story, but I didn’t know how the events played out before going into the film.)  The posters spoiled one grisly moment late in the film, which was a shame — though that also had the effect of adding to my tension watching the movie unfold, because I knew that you-know-what was coming.

A few moments ago I mentioned the use of flashbacks in the film.  I enjoyed the film’s playful editing style, particularly in the opening act, as we jump around in time.  This gave a nice bump to the momentum of the narrative, while also giving us important backstory about these characters and their complicated relationships.

All the Money in the World is a taut, tense story aimed at adults.  This is a heartbreaking film about the ways that money can corrupt and destroy, both those with it and those without it.  The cast is solid and the whole enterprise is elevated by Christopher Plummer’s magnificent work.  I am excited for Ridley Scott to return in the future to the sci-fi genre in which he excels, but it was a pleasure seeing his master hand guide this very grounded, human drama.

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