Thursday 24 January 2019

All the Money in the World review - 'stylish thriller brilliantly recreates bizarre 1970s kidnapping


Slick thriller: Mark Walhberg as JP Getty’s security advisor and Michelle Williams as
kidnapped John Paul Getty III’s mother Abigail
Slick thriller: Mark Walhberg as JP Getty’s security advisor and Michelle Williams as kidnapped John Paul Getty III’s mother Abigail
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Ridley Scott's rousing thriller arrives in these parts preceded by a whiff of scandal. Based on the true story of a 1970s kidnapping, it originally starred one Kevin Spacey as the miserly billionaire J. Paul Getty, but in November, as the producers were preparing for release, Spacey's career and reputation went up in smoke, forcing Scott to act. Given just weeks to save his film, he asked Christopher Plummer to stand in, and reshot all the JP Getty scenes in 10 days.

All the Money in the World (15A, 133mins), Four stars

When I first heard about this late replacement, I assumed that the Getty part had been a small one, but it's not: the reclusive billionaire looms like an angel of death over the entire production, and his regular appearances both punctuate the kidnap story and provide it with an odious focus. Mr Plummer, who's a spry 88, is brilliant in this tasty role, and has already been nominated for a Golden Globe. So has Michelle Williams, who's sometimes mannered but is on the top of her game here, playing a woman who had many reasons to regret marrying into the Getty dynasty.

Abigail Harris (Williams), a well-bred society girl and former water polo champion, had married Gerry's third eldest son, John Paul Getty Jr, in 1964. They had four kids but despite the family name were permanently strapped for cash - Getty Senior had no time for any of his children, whom he viewed as little more than a potential drain on his fortune. In the late 1960s, however, all of that changed when Getty summoned John Paul Jr to Rome and gave him a job in the family oil business.

Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World as billionaire JP Getty
Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World as billionaire JP Getty

For the embattled Gail, it looked like things were finally looking up, but when JP Jr was posted to Morocco, his alcoholism turned to drug addiction, and their marriage collapsed. Getty Senior, however, had warmed to Paul (played here by Charlie Plummer - no relation), Gail's charming teenage son, whom he'd take on walks through the Colosseum while holding forth on what it meant to be "a Getty".

J Paul Getty himself had been given short shrift by his own father, an austere mid-western lawyer and oilman who told his son he'd never amount to anything. Determined to prove him wrong, J Paul had leased a patch of barren desert off the Saudis and struck a rich seam of oil just as the entire world was becoming addicted to it. By the late 1950s he was the richest man on the planet, worth over $2bn and not keen on parting with a cent of it.

A mildly rebellious 16-year-old drop-out with hippie hair and some dubious Marxist friends, Paul Getty was walking in one of Rome's dodgier quarters on July 10, 1973 when he was bundled into a van. His kidnappers were members of the Calabrian mafia, who figured that the richest man in the world would be prepared to pay $17m, a fraction of his fortune, to save his precious grandson.

But as the kidnapping dragged on for months on end, they began to realise the kind of individual they were dealing with.

Because when the ransom demand comes, J Paul Getty refuses to pay a penny of it. After a while he does dispatch his security advisor, former CIA man Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to Rome to advise Gail. But the kidnappers want their money, and even after the ransom has been lowered to $10m, Paul's grandfather doesn't budge, arguing that it would set a dangerous precedent.

Maybe J Paul Getty really did believe that tenuous argument, but more likely he couldn't bear the thought of being even slightly less wealthy. For he was an incorrigible skinflint, a grasping old fool who had reduced all of human life to the constant acquisition of wealth. The real Getty installed a pay phone in his English mansion so guests wouldn't be able to make long distance calls, and in Ridley Scott's film we see him washing shirts in his hotel room bath so he won't have to pay for dry-cleaning. He's a bad advertisement for laissez-faire capitalism, and Plummer memorably portrays him as a sly, watery-eyed egomaniac.

He's the stand-out performer in a meticulous, slick and surprisingly amusing thriller that picks relentlessly at your faith in human nature.


Hostiles (15A, 133mins) , Four stars

During the 19th century, as the newly-formed United States of America expanded rapidly westward, a continuous war was waged with indigenous tribes. In order that claims to land could be more easily refuted, the so-called ‘Indians’ were characterised as bloodthirsty savages standing in the way of Christian progress.

Tribe after tribe was decimated by the US Cavalry and associated renegade land-grabbers, and those who survived were corralled on to barren reservations. America was built on blood and suffering, and the subject has rarely been honestly dealt with in cinema: Scott Cooper’s Hostiles has an honourable go, and is an absorbing drama.

Christian Bale is Captain Joseph Blocker, a bitter veteran of the Indian Wars who detests all natives and has spent long years slaughtering and capturing them. He nurses the wounds of having seen many comrades fall, but refuses to equate those deaths with his own innumerable killings. He’s remained sane by refusing to accept the Indians’ common humanity, but just as he’s about to retire he’s given a final mission which makes that fiction impossible to sustain.

Blocker is horrified when his commanding officer orders him to escort a legendary Cheyenne warrior chief called Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) back to his homelands in Montana, to die. With him will go his extended family, and along the way they pick up a traumatised white homesteader (Rosamund Pike) whose family has been butchered by renegade Comanches. And as Blocker watches Yellow Hawk’s daughters kindly tending to the woman, his hatred and prejudice begin to subside. 

Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass) is an intelligent film-maker, and Hostiles does not make the common mistake of insultingly sentimentalising Native Americans. It looks fantastic, and Christian Bale is at his intense and commanding best playing a soldier destroyed by the cruelty of war.


Brad’s Status (15A, 102mins), Four stars

Though best known for dumbass comedies like Zoolander and Meet the Parents, Ben Stiller has always been a good actor. He first proved it in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, and his recent work with Noah Baumbach has brought out the very best in him. He’s excellent in Mike White’s Brad’s Status, a perceptive and witty comic drama about a man consumed by envy.

Brad Sloan (Stiller) ought to be happy: he’s married to a loving woman (Jenna Fischer), and father to a bright and talented boy (Austin Abrams) who’s on the verge of getting into Harvard.

But Brad’s a malcontent, disappointed with his own life and obsessed with the glittering careers of his old college friends. While he runs an ailing not-for-profit charity, his buddies have scaled the greasy pole with ease and are either rich, famous or both. Brad pays regular, grudging visits to their Facebook pages, and matters reach a head when he brings his boy for an interview at Harvard.

Michael Sheen makes a lovely cameo as Brad’s smug friend, but this is Stiller’s film, and while his character’s envy of his son’s accomplishments is reprehensible, it’s all too believably human.


Jupiter’s Moon (15A, 129mins)  Three stars

And finally, a word about Jupiter’s Moon, Kornel Mundruczo’s boldly original and sometimes baffling dark fantasy. The giant planet has 69 moons, but it’s safe to assume the one Mr Mundruczo is referring to is Europa, because his film recounts the plight of Syrian refugees.

Aryan (Zsombor Jeger) is trying to cross the Hungarian border with his father when a policeman shoots him. Instead of dying, Aryan gains the power to fly, and a corrupt doctor reckons he could be a money-spinner.

Mundcuczo’s implicit criticisms of Europe’s attitude to migrants are undone somewhat by his film’s messianic undercurrents, but for all that it’s endlessly inventive, and ends in memorable and unexpected fashion. 


Films coming soon... Darkest Hour (Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn); A Woman's Life (Judith Chemla, Yolande Moreau); Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell).


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