All the Money in the World

We need to talk about Kevin.

Kevin Spacey is a fine actor who has been accused (accused, mind you) of some pretty unpleasant behaviour. As a consequence, he has become an un-person, an ex-actor, a non-celebrity, one of the disappeared; if you would seek his works, don’t look around you because you won’t find them. His role as Grandpa Getty has been erased, wiped, like a disgraced Politburo member in Stalin’s Russia, and replaced by Christopher Plummer.

Unlike Spacey, who was about 30 years too young and required hours of make-up (like Gary Oldham as Churchill), Plummer is the right age (ancient), and has the advantage that he actually resembles Getty pere. However, there is an odd flashback scene set in Saudi Arabia in 1948 where Plummer looks exactly the same as he does in 1973 – I guess make-up artists can make young people look old but there ain’t nothing in the world can make an old person look young – just look at the passengers on any cruise.

Leaving aside whether this re-shooting of history was entirely necessary or appropriate, it had the great advantage of generating massive publicity for what is really a pretty average film.

The main trouble with the film is that there is no real tension. Anyone of a certain age will remember the Getty kidnap – it was a cause celebre at the time – and they will know that he survived, albeit sans ear. For those who are too young to remember, why should they care? Teenage boy is kidnapped, family pays ransom, gets boy back (sans ear) and er…that’s it.

The difference, I suppose, is that they’re Gettys. ‘He is not just the richest man in the world,’ drools the voice-over, ‘he is the richest man in the history of the world.’ A claim that, although no doubt true at the time, now rings a little hollow in these times of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and the Waltons, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Pewdiepie, et al. ‘Oil money is old money, darling, it’s so passe.’

‘The rich are different from you and I,’ said Scott Fitzgerald famously to Ernest Hemingway. ‘Yes,’ said Hemingway, ‘they have more money.’ And so the Gettys are just like us, but with more money; they are unpleasant and unlikeable, grasping and gasping, venal, drug-addled, fond of dogs, rude to servants, avaricious for its own sake, obsessed with money, aloof from the world except when it intrudes. Old man Getty has a phone box in his house so that guests who want to make a phone call have to use that instead of putting it on his bill. I remember that from the time; it’s one of the few things one remembers about the Getty’s – had money, founded museum, lost ear, all had the same name (never knew why), kept phone box in hall.

And as none of the characters are sympathetic or likeable it’s hard to care too much about them or what happens to them.

Mark Wahlberg has a curious role as Fletcher Chase (this is such an unlikely name that it must be true), a sort of fixer and deal-maker for Getty pere. Curious, as his character never comes to life, never seems to do much or say much or contribute much. For a few fleeting moments it seems that he and Abigail Getty, kidnapee Paul’s mother, estranged wife of wastrel J Paul Getty ll and daughter-in-law of old man Getty, will get it on but they don’t, and the relationship just peters out.

As a curious aside, J Paul Getty ll (the wastrel) is played by Andrew Buchan, that bloke off Broadchurch, you know Danny’s father (the one who got murdered) – I mean Danny got murdered, not the father – if you follow. He does his best to look drunk, stoned and miserable for much of the time; easy if you know how.

Charlie Plummer (uncoincidentally, no relation) as the kidnapped Paul doesn’t have a great deal to do except lie on his kidnap bed with matted hair and look miserable and then act the loss of his ear, which he does passably well. Michelle Williams as Abigail Getty also does her best but never really takes flight. And as for Plummer – well, you can’t see the join in the re-shot scenes, he does look like Getty and he plays the mean-spirited, avaricious miser as if he means it.

It’s not a bad film; it moves along quite well, Ridley Scott knows what he’s doing; it’s just that it’s hard to see much of a reason for making it and it’s hardly up there among Scott’s canon of great films – Alien, Gladiator, Blade Runner.

Perhaps, ultimately, what it misses is Kevin Spacey and I think Scott knows that which is why he re-shot it with Plummer – without the Spacey scandal I wouldn’t have bothered to see it. And even with it, I’m not sure why I bothered.

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