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Review: "All the Money in the World"

by Chris Feil

On its surface, All the Money in the World has enough stodgy elements of familiarity to convince you it is something you have seen dozens of times. Stately period detail, imposing masculine figures, Ridley Scott’s sheen of seriousness over its true story. The kind of thing where its grey color palate reflects our engagement with its narrative. Luckily the film is surprisingly thrilling and its chillier aspects make an interesting embodiment of the monolith of its steely upper upper class villain. Or even the indifference of a world that allows his greed to thrive.

Based on the notorious early 70s kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, the grandson of the richest man in the world J. Paul Getty who refused to pay the ransom, Money avoids Wikipedia page storytelling by emphasizing character and class dynamics. What unfolds is more engaging for the grudges held and glacial negotiations between the elder Getty and his ex-daughter-in-law Gail Harris, respectively played by Christopher Plummer and Michelle Williams. Here Scott has made a film more interested in character than he has in some time.

The film deftly portrays Getty with humanity, and the effect is that his unfeeling impulses can bruise deeper than the more flat rendering a lesser film would have granted him. Gail, in turn, meets him with a righteous demand for decency. There is texture to Gail’s resolve and Getty’s tight fist that make Money something rather absorbing, a power struggle uncommon for what seems like a very common film. Their dynamic, even when they share little screen time, is the real fireworks for the backdrop of this kidnapping story.

It’s not until the final act that the film becomes a more mechanically composed, once the young Getty switches hands to a more dangerous set of kidnappers. Mark Wahlberg is not much more than a sparring partner for Williams and Plummer as the Getty security head tasked to keep eventual payouts down, and a distraction from its true moral center. The kidnapping itself was a monotonous, months long ordeal so the film keeps those details mostly brief beyond the famed removal of his ear. The downside is the young Getty never gets the personal detail of the leads, making the kidnapping itself lack a human element and the tension of the verbal battle elsewhere.

One of the film’s highlights that has so far been masked by Money’s behind-the-scenes fracas is the fraught performance from Williams. Here the actress delivers an unexpected kind of toughness, a no-bullshit disposition that’s easy to invest in without just becoming an audience surrogate for rage against the 1%. There’s the lived-in, unflashy naturalism that has marked some of her best performances, but the actress embraces the distancing traits to Gail that make her more complex. Many will tell you that it’s Plummer dominating the film but their scenes together (easily the film’s peaks) turn on her quickly coiling rage.

Plummer is quite formidable but not a stereotypical gargoyle over the film. The actor is loose and limber, tossing around indignities casually as easily as he does his fleeting warmth. Getty plays to all of Plummer’s best intangible abilities as actor, the ability to change the temperature of a room simply by walking into it and an emotional evasiveness that still keeps our perceptions of him on unfirm ground. There’s grace to how Plummer humanizes Getty and his financial motivations without asking our sympathies or denying nuance to the villainy. His devil has layers, and some that are for the audience to reconcile.

To the film and Plummer's credit, the elephant in the room is mostly not there at all - save for a few shots where Plummer has clearly been superimposed. For Scott’s renewed interest in character and Williams’s performance (not to mention what eventually came from Plummer), Money was worth saving.

Grade: B

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Reader Comments (10)

Mark Wahlberg is anathema to me, but Michelle Williams has been an actress I've always found fascinating to watch, even in movies that don't work for me personally, so my love for her will override my virulent dislike for Wahlberg on this particular occasion. It's lovely to hear that she is excellent in this movie.

December 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterstarlit

Great review, Chris! My gut is telling me Michelle Williams may be the dark horse to watch for on Oscar nominations day. Plummer is in, of course.

December 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJones

Jones: I don't buy it. Globe but not SAG and the film doesn't have the reviews to push him past the people with SAG but not Globe or the potential surprises not mentioned by either of those groups like Shannon (both of his prior nominations were similarly out of nowhere, and for films not as strongly reviewed as The Shape of Water) or Stuhlbarg. I'd say:

1. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
2. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards
3. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
4. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards
5. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
6. Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
7. Michael Shannon, The Shape of Water
8. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
9. Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
10. Ben Mendelsohn, Darkest Hour

December 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Plummer earning an Oscar nod sends a message. Plus three nods for a living legend matches him with his Sound of Music costar and his Dolores Claiborne costar.

December 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I too think Williams is a dar horse for the a spot,they like shiny new things and the reviews are solid and it's a way of rewarding Scott.

December 24, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I would love to see Williams nominated instead of Dench or Streep.

December 24, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterferdi

It's hard to know what all the Streep "she knew" stuff will effect the race,I too think Plummer is solid.

December 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

I think most in Hollywood would believe the conservative paid attacks against Streep that were fueled by Rose are a pile of crap. Even the paid artists said that it was because of her attacks at the President. It is all a bunch of lies. I believe Streep did not know. A majority know that she did not know.
For those that claim otherwise, there is no proof. No evidence. Just an unfounded attack on Streep who ever since would be Golden Globes they have been looking to tear down.
I think Streep’s letter on the topic resolved the matter. There are a great many articles that delve into the attacks with great more depth than I can convey in a comment threat.
I will think the right wing attack does more in liberal Hollywood to help rather than hurt awards chances. Attacks are even forming against Hanks and his current The Post/Trump comments.

December 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I saw the movie this morning and i have to say : it is easily Scott's best picture since American Gangsters. It's solid, well written with great characters, beautifully shot, and i didn't look at my watch once despite the 2hours 15 minutes running time.
Christopher Plummer was exceptionnal as usual in a very subtle, balanced performance. But at the center of it all is Michelle Williams, once again nailing a very complex female character (the kind you don't see very often in big budget movies).
Give the woman a fifth nomination, Academy !!!

December 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

I probably would have enjoyed the movie more if I wasn't old enough to remember the event. I was a 15 year old school girl at the time so I expect we talked about it. I know that movie start said it was "inspired" by true events but it still turned me off that the release scene was not what I recall. Wikipedia confirms what I remember not the action drama in the movie.

January 5, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVaus

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