On Wednesday evening, my daughters and I went to Southland to see the latest film release of Michelle Williams – All the Money In the World.
As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, she is a favourite actress. We love to support her films and this one seems especially relevant for our times when we have supposedly one of the richest men in the world as President of the USA and people divided as to his character.
Are wealth and business acumen an indication of character? Are they the most important attributes of a man/leader? Or is all wealth and power from wealth corrupting?
The film, directed by Ridley Scott, will also be forever linked to controversy because of the #Me Too Movement, Kevin Spacey’s hurried exit, and also the pay inequality exposed by the reshoot when the disparity of Michelle and co-star Mark Wahlberg’s payment made headlines.
Definitely a movie for celebrity-obsessed, social media times!
The Power Of Story – Does Everyone Have A Price?
All the Money In the World inspired by real-life events and based on a book about the 1973 kidnapping of teenager John Paul Getty 111 (played by Charlie Plummer).
There is the usual criticism from historical purists.
(The latest film about Churchill and WW2 released at the same time and on my to see list suffering a similar fate.)
However, as I said in my review of The Greatest Showman if you are seeking historical accuracy and “the truth”, which, in my view, is almost impossible to ever discover, please don’t expect it from Hollywood, an industry first and foremost about entertainment!
There are libraries, museums, historical documents and research institutes aplenty – seek your own facts but as far as movies are concerned, accept that stories inspired or based on real people or events will be dramatised to fit into a 2-3 hour window and suspension of reality.
Creative non-fiction is a literary genre and movie scripts based on fact aim for authenticity but sacrifice accuracy for the power of story too.
As Entertainment ‘All the Money in The World ‘Succeeds
From July – November 1973, the period the film is set, I was travelling in the UK while enjoying a year away from my university studies in Australia.
I can remember the newspapers being obsessed by the kidnapping central to the film. At 19 years of age – not much older than John Paul Getty 111, and far from home and family, I could only imagine his terror and how his mother struggled to cope.
I received regular letters from my Mum and every time I rang home (reverse charges!) she would always end with ‘when are you coming home?’
How does a family cope with something as horrific as a kidnapping?
How did Paul’s mother, abandoned by husband and powerful father-in-law patriarch negotiate and survive this traumatic turn of events in a world where women were only just beginning to assert themselves? A world, where authority and power were dominated by males.
Michelle Williams as Gail, the teenager’s mother, captures the emotional havoc wreaked by the heinous act, compounded by the seemingly cold, calculated indifference from John Paul’s grandfather ‘the richest man in the world’ and his refusal to pay the ransom.
Her body language, the tone of voice, range of emotion in facial expressions a stellar performance. Believable and engaging.
Her expression in the closing scene, as she looks at a particularly significant piece of Paul Getty Senior’s priceless object d’art collection, sums up how I think every viewer would feel about the billionaire played brilliantly by Christopher Plummer, in an exceptional performance for someone called in as a last-minute replacement for Spacey!
A major thread in the movie is Gail’s ability to stand up to the Getty empire and the powerful Paul Getty Senior. In a divorce settlement she eschews the Getty money for herself and only wants money for the children and sole custody to protect her children from a drug-addled father – hence her dire straits when the kidnappers want $17million for the return of her son.
Money she doesn’t have.
The tension in the film is all about changing the grandfather’s mind from an initial refusal to pay the ransom because in his reasoning, he had 14 other grandchildren and he would soon have no money if he paid the kidnappers and invited criminal activity.
There is a suggestion that young Paul planned the kidnapping to get back at his grandfather and have a slice of his fortune. A sub-plot that allows Mark Wahlberg’s character, the grandfather’s head of personal security to figure large in the story and have a transformational journey.
However, when the boy’s ear is sent to a newspaper office to prove the kidnapping is serious and the boy’s life is at risk, the grandfather finally agrees, albeit to offer a much lower sum that is ‘tax deductible’.
The scenes of the frightened teenager shackled in caves and barns, stripped of his wealth and privilege, abused and later mutilated (a harrowing, edge of the seat scene), are visceral and heart-rending and contrast with the luxurious, yet cold and soulless lifestyle of his grandfather.
There is one kidnapper who develops a friendship with young Paul and nurses him through illness. He is genuinely astounded that a family so rich would value money over life and you wonder if his life circumstances were different would he be a hard-working farmer, factory worker, or professional living and contributing to society or would he succumb to the trappings of wealth and be corrupted… is there ever justification for criminal activity, excuses to be made for bargaining with someone’s life?
Did Marx get the divisions and problems of society right?
We certainly see the lumpen proletariat in action in this movie as well as the capitalists with and without conscience or integrity, and the bumbling, corrupt, brutal and ultimately efficient authorities.
A Movie of Our Times?
In a world still reeling from the effects of the GFC and a rising disgust for what many perceive as the failure of capitalism, the excesses of neoliberalism – this movie doesn’t pull any punches regarding the lack of morality of those who have so much money they become increasingly richer with little or no effort – money makes money if you are prepared to:
- manipulate stocks,
- break or manipulate laws or misuse legislation and tax havens
- ruthlessly buy and sell works of art regardless of provenance or legality
- ignore family responsibilities and treat people as commodities
The 1% don’t come out looking honourable (or really happy) – although by making Paul Getty Senior their representative, the film makes them larger than life. This richest man in the world revealed to be in a class of his own!
The film also exposes those with an insatiable greed and desire for money – other people’s money – people who don’t want to put in the time, investment or effort to earn a living honestly.
Mafiosi running the networks within the Calabrian underworld who kidnapped Paul Getty 111. They have no honour, no ethics, no integrity and no vision except self-service and dog eat dog.
Economic inequity is not new and All The Money In The World creates the historical background and setting well – Getty made his money by exploiting the Middle East’s oil.
The changing social mores of the 60s turned into the revolutionary and alternative 70s – and Rome was one of the playgrounds of the super-rich.
Hash and marijuana the drug of choice, along with alcohol, soon to be surpassed by cocaine and heroin a scourge of emotionally vulnerable, including the wealthy.
Paul Getty 111, still too young to be an all-out wastrel and bad guy but a rich teenager with more freedom than most. Aware of his status and mixing in adult circles more than the average teenager there is a hint his life will be as aimless as his drug-addicted father.
His kidnapping a brutal shock but not entirely unexpected.
There is the reality of the rise of various terrorist groups, urban guerrillas and ‘freedom fighters’ in the 70s demanding society’s perceived wrongs must be addressed. The Red Brigade operated in Italy and were early suspects in Paul’s kidnapping and although they professed higher ideals their methods just as questionable as the various criminal groups seeking money.
A heady mix of strong characters and action for the movie to handle and it does it well without descending into sensational car chases, shoot-outs, boring stereotypes and gratuitous violence.
Telling a well-known story is always difficult – writers and directors have to find a new angle or techniques to spice up the story to keep people’s interest.
Actors have to capture the essence of the character and try to make them believable but not descend into caricature or be so far removed from reality that those who remember the ‘real’ people reject the story out of hand.
(As an aside, one daughter commented on how busy the wardrobe and hairdressers on set would have been to capture the authenticity of the period so well!)
Through powerful acting and good storytelling, All the Money in The World has focused on what it means to be human – what all art wants to do – confront, challenge, explore the human condition!
I’m sure this film will generate lots of dinner conversations – least of all the controversies around the making of it, the differences between the script and history, Hollywood’s sexual and pay equity scandals…
However, regarding the actual movie – go see and enjoy.
The production values are top shelf including some stunning cinematography and some memorable acting performances and scenes.
What are the most important values for society to adopt?
Why do we revere the rich or cling to trickle down economics or accept the notion that being rich means being successful?
What are our own personal benchmarks?
Regardless of status or wealth is it the choices we make that decide our decency and humanity?
Is the pursuit of wealth in some people’s DNA?
How much is too much wealth?
Is it loving relationships, family, friendship and a feeling of belonging that provide true happiness, respect, and self-worth?
When Paul Getty Senior paid the ransom in All the Money in The World he facilitated the release of his injured and permanently traumatised grandson but didn’t buy happiness or heal damaged relationships – it takes breath and flesh to do that!