This Is a Movie Review: ‘All the Money in the World’ Brings the Life-or-Death Thrills, But Could Go Deeper in the Psychology of Vast Wealth

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Sony/Columbia TriStar

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Kidnapping-Related Dismemberment and the Vices of the Rich and Organized Criminals

Release Date: December 25, 2017

First off, for those of you wondering: yes, director Ridley Scott has seamlessly replaced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty. No distracting editing or effects tricks appear to have been necessary, and anyone unfamiliar with the backstory should not have any reason to suspect an unusual production.

As All the Money in the World states explicitly, the Getty family’s massive fortune makes them practically an alien species living among human beings. Is it J. Paul Getty’s billions that make him see the world differently, or has he always been that way? Certainly his instinct for negotiating every possible deal is unprecedented, but his particularly uncompromising worldview goes beyond that. How else to explain a man who takes extreme measures not to ensure that his grandson is freed from kidnappers, but rather to ensure that he gets the best possible deal out of the exchange?

Ridley Scott’s knack for ruthless efficiency makes it difficult to really plumb those psychological depths. (It also means that there are moments when characters are staged partially in shadow and I am not sure if it is an artistic decision or just poor lighting.) It is impossible to avoid them entirely, because of Getty’s singularity and Plummer’s inherent understanding of the role. The audience is left to draw its own conclusions, but we are nudged towards just accepting that this man is totally inscrutable.

While this efficiency may skimp on the thematic depth, it at least ensures the satisfaction of a nail-biting thrill ride. The kidnapping victim, John Paul Petty III, who goes by Paul, (Charlie Plummer, unrelated to Christopher) is adrift by his familial station, but he has still enough of a survival instinct to give his scenes plenty of verve. Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams, with a distractingly self-aware but perhaps historically accurate Mid-Atlantic accent) is understandably constantly on the verge of an emotional breakdown, but she remains steely, surprising herself perhaps most of all. And Mark Wahlberg is unusually upright and decent as the former CIA operative assisting J. Paul and Gail. In the moment of watching, the rescue mission grips you, but in the long run, the mark of J. Paul Getty leaves you existentially disoriented.

All the Money in the World is Recommended If You Like: Films About Real Life Rescue Missions and the Most Notorious Criminal Enterprises, Attempting to Understand the Wealthiest People on the Planet

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Negotiations

This Is a Movie Review: Sequel-Prequel ‘Alien: Covenant’ Follows the ‘Prometheus’ Template and Adds a Few Bizarre Details of Its Own

2 Comments

This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: R for the Usual Chest-Bursting Shenanigans

Release Date: May 19, 2017

When horror movies are successful enough to merit sequels, the follow-ups can either repeat the same scares or expand the mythology. They usually do both, with the latter generally growing in prominence as the series drags on, with the diminishing returns on the former become clearer and clearer. (They can also try to summon entirely new scares, but that is one of the most difficult tasks in all of moviemaking.) Ridley Scott’s Alien is pure horror, despite its sci-fi setting. When other directors took over for the first batch of sequels, their genres may have tended more towards action, but the mythology certainly blew out as well, what with cloning Ripley and hurtling hundreds of year into the future.

Now that Scott has taken back the reins, he has apparently decided that if crazy ideas are going to be the name of the day, he might as well underpin the franchise with his own peculiar philosophizing. Because otherwise, this would just be a rehash of intrepid spacefarers treading too far on the edge and getting ripped apart by lethally invasive extraterrestrials. That approach is not necessarily terrible, and Alien: Covenant does not avoid it entirely. Chest-bursting can no longer be as iconic as it was the first time, but it still packs a sickening kick, and there are other body parts to slice off and wear away with acid blood. And there are also some larger-scale action sequences, demonstrating Scott’s still vibrant eye for scale and knack for properly calibrating tension.

But Covenant truly excels when it gets weird. It bridges the gap, both temporally and thematically, between the original Alien and 2012 prequel Prometheus. The latter film started to answer the question of what made the original attack on the Nostromo possible, a question that nobody really ever asked. Covenant continues to answer the question, and while it is still unnecessary, the backstory on display is fascinating enough to justify itself.

The actors playing the human crew of the Covenant fulfill their duties, but it is android Michael Fassbender who is pulling the strings. Prometheus and Covenant are explicitly about creation myths and the limits of human ambition, and these fundamental themes of existence are represented and mercilessly toyed with by humanoid beings created by humans. Certain revelations come out squarely tsk-tsking against hubris, while other moments are more impenetrable with their messages. But that is no criticism. Traversing across the universe should be stunning, humbling, and mysterious, perhaps even to the point of incomprehensibility. What is the purpose, for example, of Fassbender teaching himself to play the flute? I cannot genuinely say that I know, except that it makes Alien: Covenant unforgettable.

Alien: Covenant is Recommended If You Like: Prometheus But Wish It Had Been Better, Even If You Thought It Was Good

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fingers