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REVIEW: “All the Money in the World”

 

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After all the celebrations of Christmas Day I decided to cross something off my bucket list and view a movie in the theater during the most popular holiday in America, and to my surprise it’s apparently a pretty common tradition. The film I saw…one of the most talked about movies of the fall and winter for all the wrong reasons “All the Money in the World”. Based on real life events, this film became known for its sudden recasting after Kevin Spacey’s scandals came to light less than a month before the movie’s release. Still, the film has managed to garner critical success. So I’m here to do what I do and discuss my opinions on this Frankenstein of a film. Here’s my review of “All the Money in the World”.

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Rather loosely based on the real life kidnapping of J. Paul Getty, III (Charlie Plummer), the grandson of oil tycoon John Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer in the role previously filled by Spacey) the story revolves around Getty’s real life refusal to pay the $17 million ransom for his grandson. The child’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) teams up with Getty’s advisor Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to try and negotiate with the kidnappers and convince Getty to step up to the plate for his family. What plays out is an epic three-way cat-and-mouse game between Getty, Harris and the kidnappers with the life and safety of the younger Getty in the balance and the media covering every angle of the legendary dispute.

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For a film that literally had to reshoot half the movie’s scenes in a month’s time, I have to say “All the Money in the World” is quite impressive. It features strong acting and well-handled drama to bring the real world story of the Getty kidnapping to the big screen, albeit with a great deal of creative license involved. Director Ridley Scott, always a valiant storyteller, manages to keep his vision intact despite having to add in Christopher Plummer at the last minute. Despite some interesting visual errors and some storytelling faults “All the Money in the World” is a very complete picture that has a point to make and does so without leaning too heavily on the core values within its screenplay that could have been completely overplayed in the wrong hands.

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The film features some heavy hitters in its cast and most of them deserve complimenting. Michelle Williams, who has made the best of several roles on the big screen in 2017, continues to show promise as a worthy Hollywood starlet by taking center stage as Gail Harris, the ex-wife of Getty’s son, J. Paul Getty, Jr., who pleads to her ex father-in-law to help pay the ransom and bring her son home. It’s a performance with many layers to it as Gail is a confident, but delicate person who struggles to convince those around her that her son is valuable enough to invest in. She’s the only one, including the kidnappers, who sees him as more than an item fro profit and as such she becomes somewhat of the moral center in this movie by driving home the point that there are more important things in the world than money. In fact she makes this point early on when she agrees to forgo any financial settlement in the divorce if she can keep her children. She might not be the most complex character in the world, but Gail Harris is an important piece to this story that, in any other hands, may not have come off quite as charming or believable.

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Beside Williams’ Gail Harris is Fletcher Chase, played by Mark Wahlberg. The big thing I can say about this character is holy crap Wahlberg can actually act. Chase lacks much of the over-the-top presentation Wahlberg has unfortunately becomes known for and what we get instead is a pretty controlled performance by the Bostonian that might not pack as much subtlety and significance as William’s character, but he’s still important in the grand scheme of things. Chase becomes a confidant to Harris and at first he tries to rescue the young Getty simply because it’s hit job. What makes Wahlberg’s performance so strangely memorable is you can see the transformation take place within Chase throughout this whole movie. As I said Chase starts off as a man just doing his job. This rescue attempt is a paycheck for him so he sees the younger Getty as a way to money like everyone else. However as the film progresses Chase slowly realizes the error in his perception, leading him to see the true colors of his employer and understand Gail Harris’ position a little bit more. For a character that is literally meant to be the personification of this film’s most pressing moral dilemma, that being deciding the true value of a person’s life, Wahlberg handles it with grace showing some true merit as a big screen actor. For a man known more for his action prowess and more eccentric characters, over-the-top I have to say I was quite impressed.

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Outshining everyone however is Christopher Plummer, a man who was put on the spot by filling in the role previously held by Kevin Spacey. Plummer was the original choice by Ridley Scott for the role so it seemed fated that he would take on the iconic billionaire’s persona in this tale and boy did Plummer make it count. Portraying a man like Getty is not easy, but Plummer brings the controversial billionaire to life spectacularly giving us a man obsessed with his fortune but who also has a touch of humanity he just seems to refuse to embrace. While the performance isn’t the most subtle Plummer’s take on Getty provides a villain that, in some ways, is actually more detestable than the kidnappers. However, somehow you can’t help but feel for the old man at times. He makes some fair points and while we will never know Kevin Spacey’s interpretation of the former richest man in the world Plummer’s is top notch showing the talented actor’s immense range and dedication to character, especially when you consider he had no time to really bond with the cast and he had weeks to film his part. He is by far the best, and most impressive, thing about this movie to say the least.

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As a story “All the Money in the World” is very engaging and engrossing. Despite having some pretty dull moments the film managed to keep me glued to the screen for the entire journey. The intensity and suspense of the back and forth between all parties with a young man’s life in the balance made for a solid and thrilling drama with many different levels. The best part is it never truly delved into cliché territory, borrowing just enough from formulas that have worked in the past without betraying its own identity in the process. While much of the story kept me engaged there were a few moments, specifically when it came to the scenes with the kidnappers, where I felt like the film needed to cut to the chase. The movie also seems to embrace a few strange elements that may have been the product of the reshoots. The scene coloration, such as grey scale compared to more colorful pallets, is very inconsistent almost as if Scott wanted to capture the tone of the scenes through imagery that comes off as more awkward than symbolic. The pace also tends to be a bit off as the film jumps from moment to moment and character to character at times with a sudden jerk and no real setup. It’s not enough to damped the film too much, and again it might be a product of the reshoots, but these are errors worth mentioning. Casual viewers may not even notice these oddities, but, without sounding too pretentious, when you watch movies every week little things like that tend to bug you a lot more than the average viewer.

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The other minor error can be found in one specific scene where Getty and Chase have an exchange where Getty’s obsession over money versus his grandson comes to a head. Without spoiling it I will say this particular scene felt a bit heavy handed where the rest of the film felt more smooth and subtle. Again a possible result of reshoots this scene specifically felt wooden and harkened back to the not-so-subtle performances that Mark Wahlberg is known for and isn’t really the smoothest moment for Plummer as an actor either. It was a odd moment that felt out of place and the reason it’s such a bummer is because it’s a true money moment in the film, no pun intended, where we see the moral conflict of the entire movie come to a true head.

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Still, despite the need for reshoots and its rocky road to theaters I’m happy to say “All the Money in the World” is still an exceptional and thrilling crime drama that takes a real life story and adapts it gracefully to the big screen. Featuring impressive acting, a solid story, and avoiding being too heavy handed in its message save for one unfortunate moment “All the Money in the World” ends the year on a high note giving us some of the best performances by all involved and proving that even when faced with adversity a great filmmaker and cast can make all the difference in bringing art to fully realized life.

 

 

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