All the Money in the World

Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: David Scarpa

It would be easy to watch All the Money in the World and assume that the story is essentially about the inhumanity and immorality of greed, but I think that would be a mischaracterisation. Although the Getty we see in this film is a tight-fisted miser whose heartless resolve to keep hold of his money while his grandson suffers defies any sense of empathy, I don’t think calling what he does simple greed gets to the heart of what this movie is really about. What this film is ultimately asking us to consider is what exactly it is that money does to a person and it chooses as its subject Getty, who at the time was not only the richest man in the world, he was the richest man in the history of the world. How does possessing that kind of wealth affect the way one thinks and sees the world? What kind of person does one have to become in order to manage the power, status, and exposure that come with it? How does someone with ‘all the money in the world’ value everything else in their life? Those are just some of the questions at the heart of this story.

Based on his biography Painfully Rich, the film focuses on one specific chapter in the life of J. Paul Getty (Kevin Spacey Christopher Plummer), the kidnapping of his grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) in 1973. A ransom of $17 million is set, an amount that the 16-year-old’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) cannot even begin to pay. Having never asked her former father-in-law for a thing since divorcing his son John Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan), her only hope is to appeal to Getty for the ransom. Getty, despite being fully aware that the amount is mere pocket change to a man of his calibre, flat out refuses to pay so much as a penny. He does however employ Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA operative and one of Getty’s top negotiators, to accompany Gail and investigate the matter to help secure his grandson’s release. As the media picks up on the story and the whole matter turns into a sensation, Getty III is kept hostage in a remote location in Italy where his precarious situation gets worse with each passing day.

In his portrayal of Getty, made all the more remarkable with the knowledge that he had mere days to prepare and play the role, Plummer holds nothing back. He is utterly ruthless and repugnant in his refusal to pay the ransom, but with just enough humanity that we can see where his pitiless, cold-hearted mind is coming from. There is a cruel, business-like logic to Getty’s decision as he argues that if he were to pay the full ransom without question, it would set a precedent that would make himself and possibly his family even more vulnerable. That doesn’t mean Getty is coming from a place of regard or nobility though, far from it. It comes from the unfeeling outlook he has accrued from having built his fortune. To him money is not money, it is power and influence. It is an extension of who he is and what he represents and it affects every deal, every relationship, and every interaction in his life. Getty’s understanding of the world, of people and of society has been shaped by his wealth and it has instilled within him this mind-set that everyone else is constantly after what it his. If he gives away as much as an inch, it will open the floodgates. Thus he guards his riches and status the way a dragon guards its treasure.

It’s for that exact reason that Getty was taken aback years before the kidnapping when Gail left her husband and walked away with the kids and nothing else. Having long believed that anybody who interacts with him is always working some angle or holding some agenda and is always trying to get something from him, it is a mystery to Getty in a way that is perfectly obvious to the rest of us how this woman could possibly walk away from his empire with no conditions save to be left alone with her children. Because Getty is the better known character and the meatier role in the film, it’s easy to overlook the stellar work Williams delivers as the frustrated, desperate mother trying to rescue her son. She exhibits a remarkable degree of restraint in her dealings with the icy Getty that is only just able to contain her clear loathing of the man, knowing full well that scolding and pleading with him will get her nowhere and that he must be handled tactically. It is a balance that Williams pulls off wonderfully, creating a character whom we entirely believe will do anything to save her son, including making a deal with the most greedy, ruthless businessman alive.

Scott has shown before that he can make a story as cinematic as anybody else, but here, apart from a couple of elaborate set-pieces, his directing style is restrained, perhaps in order to draw more focus on the actors and allow them to carry the story. In the hands of Plummer, Williams, and a couple of others (like Duris who is very good as one of the kidnappers) the story works well. Wahlberg is the weak link, playing the former CIA operative in a performance that is competent and nothing else. He says his lines and delivers his reactions well enough, but ultimately his character is a nonentity who fails to leave a lasting impression. The film also suffers from a monotonous middle act that plays some of the same beats a little too often and the balance between believable realism and Hollywood fantasy gets a little uneven towards the end with the way that the film places Gail and Fletcher in a precarious situation that they probably got nowhere near in real life (I had the same issue with the car chase at the end of Argo). Still All the Money in the World is all in all a solid film that’s well worth the watch for the fascinating character studies of Gail and Getty and for the intriguing insights offered about money, power, and compassion.



The New Girlfriend

Cast: Anaïs Demoustier, Romain Duris, Raphaël Personnaz, Isild Le Besco, Aurore Clément, Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat

Director: François Ozon

Writer: François Ozon

This is a film that grabbed my attention right from the start. The opening shot is of a young, beautiful woman. She is wearing a wedding dress and we hear wedding music being played on the organ. We see make-up being applied to her face in preparation for the occasion. She stares passively towards the camera until a hand reaches out and closes her eyelids. Only then do we realise what is happening. This is not her wedding day, it is the day of her funeral. In less than thirty seconds Ozon has already presented one of the recurring themes and motifs of this film, the idea of appearance. He has shown us how things are not necessarily what they appear to be and the effect that appearances can have on our perceptions, two ideas that will recur throughout this film.

The funeral is that of Laura, the childhood friend of Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and wife of David (Romain Duris). Claire stands before Laura’s loved ones and talks about the friendship that they had. The film presents a series of scenes that recount the life that they shared starting from when they first met at early childhood. We are taken through Claire’s most cherished memories of Laura from the blood pact they made to stay with each other forever to standing at each other’s weddings to holding Laura’s hand during her final moments as she lay in the hospital bed. From the moment they first met Claire and Laura have been with each other every single step of the way through pain and joy, through pleasure and strife, through love and heartbreak. And now it’s over. Nevertheless Claire promises to keep the vow that she made to Laura all those years ago by watching over David and their infant daughter Lucie.

Laura’s death ends up bringing Claire and David closer in the most unexpected way possible. She is completely and utterly devastated by Laura’s passing and becomes inconsolable. Not even her husband Gills (Raphaël Personnaz) can get through to her or provide her with any sort of comfort. As differences and problems start surfacing between them, Claire resolves to honour her promise to Laura and shows up at David’s house to help him care for the baby. There she discovers a shocking revelation that staggers and astonishes her. I wish I could go into more detail than that but it would ruin the element of surprise. It is a revelation that changes Claire’s entire world and which will go on to have a resounding effect on her and on David for the rest of their lives.

In the wake of this revelation Claire and David start to spend more time together and grow closer to each other. This secret that they share could have potentially volatile and dire consequences if it should ever be discovered and so it is one that they cannot ever allow anyone else, not even those closest to them, to know. However it is a secret that they can share with each other and so they meet up regularly to partake in activities that enable David to embrace his secret self. It is their mutual love for Laura that unites them as they try to help each other overcome their grief. They must also face the themes of love, sexuality and desire as they confront their feelings for Laura and for each other. Demoustier gives a wonderfully delicate performance as the graceful Claire. She switches seamlessly between comedy and drama whenever the film calls for it and perfectly complements the vulnerable and conflicted nature of Claire’s character. Duris gives an astonishing performance as David in his journey to find his hidden self. There are two separate sides to this character, one restrained and the other free, that he portrays with a perfect balance of humour and heart. It takes a very talented actor to give a performance that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. The chemistry that the two share is palpable and they compliment each other beautifully.

With The New Girlfriend François Ozon has put together a film that is sensitive, moving and witty. He expertly shifts between comedy to drama and provides an abundance of both. The story he crafts is cleverly original and the audience never quite knows what to expect next. It is a story about two characters who come together to help each other overcome a devastating loss and to try and find their identities. They find themselves to be lost without Laura who served as an anchor to them both. Her absence has left a hole that they each must fill. For all of its eccentricities or, as some viewers might see it, absurdities, this film remains at its core a heartwarming story about love, loss, and life.