Sunday, 7 January 2018

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD


56. “I’m telling you this so you can understand the things you are about to see.”



07/01/2018




I left the cinema only three hours ago, having realised that the major theme of “All the Money in the World,” both inside and outside of the film, is guilt by association. There are three reasons for this:

1)      After the ransom is paid, John Paul Getty III escapes to a small town to evade recapture. Seeking refuge, he asks to be let into a house, mentioning who he is. Because he has been revealed to be the kidnapped, and a Getty, he is refused entry, because the householders just don’t want to get involved.

2)      Both commercial and moral concerns led to the replacement of the actor playing Sir Paul Getty, becoming the major talking point surrounding the film: with a release date already announced, artistic freedom was met with time constraints, to avoid seeing the joins.

3)      I am seeing this film because two other people no longer want to see anything that has the involvement of Sir Ridley Scott, due to the perceived mismanagement of a franchise with “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant” – while his name is “Alien” to many, my Scott is the one of “Blade Runner,” “Thelma and Louise” and that Hovis advert.

I was surprised at the short prologue, spoken by “Little Paul,” that seeks to frame our view of the Getty family – they look like us, but they are not like us. Sir Paul Getty could build his own world if he could not buy it, harnessing its resources like a superman, yet remaining alien to it – when his son asks for a job, his family is welcomed back into the fold, but he is asked for understanding by his father, who explains away his lack of attention as his business being more important. The miserly Getty, washing his own hotel room sheets, and installing a payphone in his mansion, puts his value in things, items of value, items that create value, items that do not talk back – he buys a painting on the understanding that its dubious provenance means it cannot be shown in public, and is able to put a price on a minotaur statue that is disproved by objective eyes. Everything has a price, including his own family – no wonder all scenes involving him are washed out, blue, and dark.


“Little Paul’s” mother, Gail Harris/Getty, is a divorcee who is forced to prove herself over and over again – her surname signifies wealth, yet she does not have her own, and does not need it to live, having custody of her children. This is a trade-off – once there is talk of paying a ransom, she is not offered anything until it becomes tax-deductible, and once enough time has passed for the ransom to reduce in price. Gail is at the mercy of Sir Paul Getty; his security chief, Fletcher Chase; Cinquanta, one of the hostage takers; and of the police, beckoning her at all hours to answer the phone and identify evidence. Her resolve is constantly tested, but it does not waver, for only she knows the price of what she could lose.

Michelle Williams must be given awards for her performance as Gail, as the primary source of humanity in this sorry story. While it is true that the events of this film have been reordered and embellished for dramatic purposes, especially at the end, this is almost necessary for us to believe it, and for the audience to have closure. Without the relentlessness of Williams’s performance, trying everything possible to save their son, we would have little reason to care. Matt Damon is also excellent as Fletcher Chase, employed by Getty to shadow Gail, but putting his empathy to good use, something his employer apparently could not afford. Special mentions should also go to Romain Duris as Cinquanta, who develops a kind of Stockholm syndrome with his captive, and to Charlie Plummer as John Paul Getty III, a wide-eyed innocent 16-year-old shown to have a self-preservation that lasts beyond his own name. However, looming over everything is Christopher Plummer’s performance as Sir Paul Getty, in a role requiring him to play a man operating on a different plain from everyone else, able to deal with the apparent horror of everything that comes with being that rich.


Ridley Scott has done an amazing job with “All the Money in the World,” his direction servicing the story at every point, supported by wonderful cinematography and production design. The colours of the Italian climate clash horribly with the British gloom, save for the occasional glimpse of warmth – a fire place, a doorway out of Getty’s office, a light illuminating a Vermeer painting. You entirely believe a world that we could all be one lottery ticket away from, yet making you never want to play the lottery again.

Scott was recently interviewed by “The Guardian,” confirming the nine days of reshoots required replace the original Getty actor with Plummer was a business decision, not unlike the decision to complete Oliver Reed’s performance in “Gladiator” using CGI and stand-ins. but one taken almost immediately: the fear that such a personal work, i.e. non-franchise, could not otherwise be seen, was too much, and because Scott had the ability to mount a reshoot so quickly, there was little other option. Scott met with Plummer, his original choice for Getty, the same day he made the decision. The suspension of disbelief that takes over once the film begins means you forget to look for the joins.

If you like, both Sir Ridley Scott and Sir Paul Getty are people who could use money to shape the worlds around them to their own purposes, even though Scott’s motives are in creating a believable and engaging cinema experience: “When you’re in film, it’s a lot of money to lose if it’s not working. Business is always highly linked with the creative process.” The choices surrounding the “Alien” franchise could well be to his detriment, and some will then question whether he knows that. However, when you’re right, you’re right, and the only person that deserves to get screwed over regarding “All the Money in the World” is Kevin Spacey.

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