All the Money in the World (2017) ****

January 5th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Ridley Scott | David Scarpa | Cast: Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Timothy Hutton, Charley Shotwell, Andrew Buchan | US | Biopic Drama | 132′

“There’s a purity to things, that I’ve never found in a human being” says the billionaire oil magnate John Paul Getty as he drools over his art treasures in Ridley Scott’s rip-roaring rollercoaster of a thriller that deftly explores the psychology behind the super rich. Yes, they are “different from us, they have more money” and they don’t want to part with a penny. Or so we discover in this lush biopic crime drama that takes us through the events surround the scandal. Apart from mistrust, this cinematic parable also explores the nature of power and of fear – a fear of letting amassed wealth drain away to the next generation.

Getty senior famously refused to pay the ransom demand for the release of his favourite grandson – then only 16. The film opens on a sultry summer evening in Rome (1973), where John Paul Getty III is bundled into a van by Calabrian gangsters. The tough old tycoon suspects the boy of colluding with his mother in the scheme, but also resents the power struggle and wants to avoid setting a precedent for kidnappings everywhere.

Gorgeous to look at – like flipping through a Seventies copy of Vogue or Tatler – this is an intoxicatingly visual romp through events. It also pictures the life of the glitterati at play and under pressure in their plush playgrounds. Richly adapted by David Scarpa from John Pearson’a paperback Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J Paul Getty. The story still has resonance for many who remember the spate of Red Brigade kidnappings (1973 – 1978), when kids of rich Italian industrialists – and often their entire families – were forced into exile in Switzerland.

Extraordinary also that Christopher Plummer was a last minute shoe-in for the disgraced Kevin Spacey: he slips into his role with the consummate ease of a python slivering over a plump leather setttee. Glinting and salivating over his precious art collection – as his oil empire ratchets up another million – he fondles the telex tape as if it were made of satin. There’s a touch of poetic licence to the drugged-up way Getty Senior’s son John (Andrew Buchan) is portrayed – in one scene he is wheel-chaired and comatose, but this gives more importance to Michelle Williams’s role as the smoothly delightful Abigail, his petite but deadly plucky wife and mother of kidnapped Paul (Charlie Plummer in another thoughtful turn). Mark Wahlberg plays his standard role as Chase, Getty’s CIA-trained negotiator and bodyguard. There is also a vignette for Olivia Magnani the silky brunette from Paolo Sorrentino’s sophomore feature The Consequences of Love (2004), she plays the wife of arch mobster Mammoliti (Marco Leonardi). The only slightly bum note is the over-sensationalised Italian kidnap sequences where Roman Duris does his best a good guy/gangster Cinquanta with a French accent and the swagger of League of Gentleman’s ‘Pop’. But that’s a small criticism of this lush and supremely enjoyable way to start 2018 filmwise, smug in the knowledge that money isn’t everything – but it helps MT


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