ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (2017, Ridley Scott)
Having stepped away from the effects-heavy, baggage-laden franchise of ALIEN: COVENANT, Scott has loosened up considerably for his second film of 2017, the rip-roaring entertainment that is this (somewhat) true story of the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s teenage grandson in 1973. Back in THE COUNSELLOR mode, he has fashioned a vicious, perky piece of crackerjack storytelling that feels expensive and polished, despite the fact that a huge chunk of it was filmed last Thursday.
Although a few of the green screen shots of Christopher Plummer keyed over Arabian deserts and the like are a little messy, you’d still think Plummer was always the Getty at the center. He’s a snake: oily and poisonous, but convincing enough when he turns on the charm that you want to buy what he’s selling. And although he isn’t the protagonist of this story (more on Michelle Williams in a minute), it’s his view on money that drives everything that this movie is about. People like to think that money is just some extrinsic tool and doesn’t really mean much when it comes to human relationships, but Scott’s film (credited to screenwriter David Scarpa) says the opposite: everything is negotiable, especially human beings. Money isn’t just a way to keep score, it’s why we keep score in the first place — we can say we don’t want it, but it moves mountains.
This is a cynical world view, but the world it inhabits is that of unchecked capitalism, meaning the communist kidnappers depicted here never stand a chance. That’s the real tragedy this movie is exploring: even if you don’t agree with Getty that there’s no such thing as “priceless” (only “invaluable”), what are you going to do about it? All the power is in the hands of people who think like he does. And with the unequal distribution of wealth currently at a nearly unprecedented level, at least in the last century, that makes this movie not only a grim tale, but a timely one.
The beating heart here, as she often is, is Williams as the hostage’s mother. Not content to play Abigail as merely distraught and unhinged, Williams finds notes of tenderness, cunning, resolve, and even romance. The look she gives Getty’s fixer “Fletcher Chase” (what a name), played by Mark Wahlberg, when he states his intention to move on to another job, has the heartbreakingly perfect proportion of desperation, adoration, and politeness. So while Scott ended ALIEN: COVENANT on one of the most misanthropic notes of his career, for ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD he finds in Williams a face of such deep-seated humanity that even the frostiest grinch will melt by the end.